The 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship is finally underway from various locations in and around San Antonio, Texas. Coordinating producer Pat Lowry took some time to reflect on the journey to get to this point and how making this championship happen has been a true team effort.
It has been more than 700 days since we last crowned an NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Champion. What does it mean to your team to finally have the tournament underway?
The emotions really are celebration and relief all at the same time. It has been a long time without championship basketball. To plan two tournaments and finally see games being played really feels fantastic for all of us.
This has been a difficult process. Everything is different, and we are also trying to keep everyone safe while still delivering an exceptional product. The amount of gratitude [coordinating producer, Special Events] Kate Jackson and I have for everyone who has come together to make this a great event cannot be put into words. We are so grateful for the hard work and long hours everyone has put in to get the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship back on television.
Party on, Raiders! 👏
13-seed Wright State secures its first-ever women's NCAA tournament win after upsetting 4-seed Arkansas. pic.twitter.com/W4zQWwuc6R
— espnW (@espnW) March 22, 2021
What challenges and opportunities does this year’s unique format present with having the tournament in one general geographic location as opposed to being spread out all over the country?
From an opportunity standpoint, we have [sideline reporter] Holly Rowe, who has been able to handle breaking news in San Antonio, do a hit promoting our first-ever game on ABC, do a game in Austin in the afternoon and then be back in San Antonio for a game at 8 p.m. It is really cool to be able to maximize her presence in that way. We have been able to maximize other resources as well, from scenic shoots to taking advantage of one truck servicing two courts in the Alamodome. Everything is a bit different during a pandemic, yet we are still able to produce games at a very high level.
The challenges are some of the same. With everything in the same area and producing during a pandemic, we are having to employ different models of production. We have four REMIs [Remote Integration Models] and two production trucks.
Here at the Alamodome, one of our courts is a REMI production, and one is a truck production. In an ideal world, it would be great to have everyone producing at the different venues but that isn’t possible right now with COVID-19 protocols. However, it is difficult to truly call it a challenge because our operations team has done such a terrific job in setting us up to succeed. It was a challenge to plan everything, but the execution has been smooth because we have such strong teammates.
Can you share how this championship is a true company-wide effort?
We are touching so many areas of the company to make this championship happen. We are using Live From Home kits for the first and second rounds. A new LFH team was created to help us safely produce games in a pandemic, but I don’t think they ever anticipated doing 32 games in two days. That’s 32 games just from the Women’s NCAA Tournament. There are still plenty of other events in other sports happening simultaneously. Thirteen months ago, we would never have dreamed of producing these games with talent at home.
We are sharing the love around the company, we are using multiple REMI sites – two in Charlotte, one in Orlando, and one in Bristol – as well as using staff from the Longhorn Network to man a truck in Austin. The team producing the Final Four is already in San Antonio producing games from Day One.
11-seed BYU becomes the first lower seed to win in the women's tournament 👏 pic.twitter.com/1WwRHoynNQ
— espnW (@espnW) March 22, 2021
I do not think one venue has ever hosted games in all rounds including the Final Four, especially on two courts. This created a puzzle for the Remote Operations team to figure out how to set up for the Final Four before the first and second rounds knowing the NCAA would be striking both courts being used for the early rounds and installing a new court, and reconfiguring for the Final Four.
Add to it, doing all of this with a condensed timeframe around team practice schedules due to COVID protocols. It is a complicated situation, but [manager, Remote Operations] Erin Orr and the operations team have really come through for us.
This championship is just a lot of everyone coming together to make everything better and it has been great to be a part of this team. – ESPN CP Pat Lowry
We also have a new look on air this year thanks to our Creative Services team. The black-and-gold creates a big, championship feel and is the cousin to our college basketball look. This new animation package has certainly elevated the look in our studio and game coverage.
Our studio team would usually be on site with us for the Final but will be in Bristol for the full tournament this year. Kate Jackson, [associate director] Josslyn Meyers, and the studio team added virtual graphics, exterior lighting, and drone footage, giving everything a momentous look and feel.
New year, new look
Check out redesigned @ncaawbb Championship graphics
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) March 26, 2021
This championship is just a lot of everyone coming together to make everything better and it has been great to be a part of this team.
ESPN has now been televising this event for 25 years. Reflect for a moment on how you have seen this tournament and our coverage grow over the years.
In 1995, there were five women’s tournament games on our networks, and now, our amazing programming team has led us to have every game of the tournament full national this year. Nothing is regionalized. To see that growth is exciting, not to mention the level of play is so good now. I am just proud to be a small part of how we are getting such a good product into the homes of our fans.
One last note. Since ESPN started broadcasting this event in 1995, no woman has ever produced the National Championship Game. I am so proud of Kerry Callahan, who will become the first woman to produce the National Championship this year from San Antonio. Congrats to Kerry!