Women’s NCAA Tournament moves to primetime on ESPN

This year’s March Madness basketball tournament marked a positive shift in women’s college sports broadcasting.  For the first time, ESPN aired women’s college basketball at primetime, two games per night, at 7:00 PM and 9:30 PM. The men’s games, by comparison, aired on CBS’s smaller channels, TBS and TNT.

Although women’s collegiate basketball has been shown on ESPN since 1996, they were restricted to the afternoon and regional coverage. This year’s primetime showings were more accessible and caught the interest of viewers at the time that most people are watching television. Proof of this is the final game of this year’s tournament; it wracked up 4.85 million viewers, the most watched women’s finale since 2004 on ESPN. 

There are a couple of reasons why this change in broadcasting is so important. The obvious one is that women’s collegiate sports are getting more attention. The talent in the women’s league often gets overlooked because of the significant coverage of mens’ sports. Rebecca Lobo, a WNBA All-Star and product of the collegiate basketball royalty team, University of Connecticut (UConn), now a basketball analyst for ESPN, commented that “the coverage is expanding for the better and reaching a bigger audience and giving more people a chance to watch the games that they want to watch,” according to AP News.

The other reason why these coverage changes are significant is because they help to emphasize ESPN’s new women’s brand, ESPNW. ESPNW is already active on social media and wants to create a blog dedicated to women’s sports news, up-and-coming stars, and other stories around women’s leagues. Eventually, with enough programming, ESPNW could grow into a television channel similar to ESPN 2. This channel could reinforce Lobo’s comments about a broader coverage net and make it easier to access all women’s sports, in one place. 

If ESPN develops this “spinoff” channel, it will be interesting to see if ESPN’s coverage of women’s sports will dwindle, or if the highlights and primetime college games will remain a part of the programming. There are some people, mostly women, who are not supportive of this concept, referring to it as a “pink ghetto”; if ESPN wanted to integrate women’s sports into its programming it would, instead of stuffing all of it into one digital marketing campaign. The “That’s a W” campaign kicked off with this video.

Image Source: The Takeaway

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