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ESPN, WNBA Partnership Help Set The Pace During This Unprecedented Time

Before Game 3 of the WNBA Finals unfolds tonight on ESPN, VP Programming and Acquisitions, Carol Stiff explores the teamwork needed to rebound from the day sports halted

On April 17, the WNBA Draft marked one of the first live sports-related events on television since sports were halted in March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was the first of its kind, with the entire process being done virtually rather than in New York City as in previous years. The 2020 WNBA Draft was the most-watched since 2004, with viewership up 123 percent year-over-year.

Carol Stiff (Melissa Rawlins/ESPN Images)

Whether sports would return this season was uncertain for quite some time, but our ESPN teams worked tirelessly with the league to make sure that women’s professional basketball could be televised in a way that was safe for all those involved.

The result was an expansive slate of games that was more than double our typical television schedule, with games available on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2. A huge thank you to Curt Bell, associate manager for programming, for his excellent collaboration with the league to bring such a robust schedule to our fans.

Some might wonder, “How do you accommodate such an extensive schedule under such unique circumstances?” The answer is with an innovative, flexible, and dedicated ESPN team, making it happen.

We were the only network to get a reporter into the Wubble, meaning that Holly Rowe would spend months in Bradenton, Fla., to bring the biggest storylines around the league to viewers at home, with a special focus on the league’s dedication to fighting for social justice.

Our commentators – Rebecca Lobo, LaChina Robinson, Ryan Ruocco and Pam Ward — called the games remotely from Bristol, encountering unique, however not insurmountable, challenges made more manageable by those working behind the scenes.

Robinson relocated to Bristol for the duration of the season to tackle her first hosting assignment while also continuing in her role as a game analyst, meaning she had a role in every game on our air this season.

Senior managing producer Sara Gaiero and her team seamlessly tackled producing each game, utilizing control rooms in both Bristol and Charlotte. Our Remote Operations team, led by Jarrett Baker, on the ground in Bradenton, Fla., made sure all equipment stayed operational and that the signal made it back to Bristol and Charlotte, even during the sometimes unpredictable Florida weather.

And let’s not forget the tremendous effort by our marketing department on the #orangehoodie campaign during opening weekend, which resulted in the league’s signature sweatshirt being the top-selling item on Fanatics.com for the weekend. The #orangehoodie and #initforgood campaign continues throughout the Finals.

As we look forward to tonight’s WNBA Finals Game 3 and what could be a championship-clinching win for the Seattle Storm, the work done here is exactly what I would expect with our people leading the charge.

This season, people are watching nearly double the number of minutes of these amazing female athletes as they did last season, and I am proud that we have played a part in that, as we have every season of the WNBA since its inception. That is 24 years of WNBA on ESPN networks, and here is to many more to come.

The Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm clash in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals tonight on ESPN (7 ET). Seattle leads the best-of-5 series, 2-0. For more information on the coverage, visit ESPN PressRoom.

(ESPN)
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