ESPN is in the midst of a hectic championship campaign, with 27 of the 29 NCAA Championships in its portfolio staged over the spring months due to COVID. Previously described as a “Herculean task” for the organization, ESPN has only strengthened its coverage – especially of women’s championship events – despite logistical challenges due to COVID.
With expanded programming windows and networks, innovative technology and ESPN’s signature storytelling, ESPN networks have seen viewership gains for NCAA Championships this spring. The NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship wrapped up with record viewership numbers, and this week the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship is underway with unprecedented coverage while the NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships tumbles to its live broadcast debut on ABC this weekend.
Every year we’ve added to our women’s sports, whether it’s additional studio programming, digital coverage, increased games or looking for new and emerging women’s sports opportunities. We’re constantly striving to raise the bar.
– Dan Margulis, ESPN senior director, Programming & Acquisitions
“ESPN has long been the industry leader when it comes to our women’s sports coverage, and we are more dedicated to these events than ever,” said Dan Margulis, ESPN senior director, Programming & Acquisitions. “We’re proud to be the home for 15 NCAA women’s sports championships, and having added live championship programming for women’s ice hockey, women’s field hockey and cross country this year only underscores our commitment to promoting women’s collegiate athletics.”
ESPN’s commitment to showcasing women’s college sports dates back to the early days of the organization, when ESPN first acquired the rights in October 1982 to televise several women’s NCAA Championships. In total, ESPN networks distribute thousands of regular season women’s college events across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network, ACC Network, Big 12 Now on ESPN+, Longhorn Network, ESPN3 and ESPN+ each year.
“Every year,” Margulis continued, “we’ve added to our women’s sports, whether it’s additional studio programming, digital coverage, increased games or looking for new and emerging women’s sports opportunities. We’re constantly striving to raise the bar.”
Just this spring, ESPN has enhanced its tonnage of NCAA Championship coverage across its networks, including:
- Adding three NCAA championships (women’s ice hockey, women’s field hockey and cross country) to its portfolio in the past three months, ESPN is now the home to 15 NCAA women’s championships.
- Expanding coverage of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, with the NCAA Women’s Final Four live on ESPN, ABC added to the lineup of networks in earlier rounds, and for the first time, all 63 games of the tournament were nationally televised.
- From first serve to the final whistle, ESPN has grown its exposure of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament this spring to include the entire tournament for the first time.
- This Saturday, the NCAA Gymnastics Championships will make their live broadcast debut with the Championship Final on ABC. Also, for the first time in the history of the championship, regionals were covered live this year with all three days on ESPN3.
Every year, the events get bigger, the fans get more passionate and the competition gets better. Our production teams get really invested in these championships and the stories of these teams, and it’s truly special.
– Maria Soares, ESPN senior coordinating producer, on covering women’s NCAA championship events
Maria Soares, who is currently pulling double duty as the senior coordinating producer of ESPN’s coverage of NCAA Championships in gymnastics and volleyball, has seen the evolution of women’s sports coverage over her nearly three decades at ESPN.
“The growth of women’s sports has just been incredible to watch,” said Soares. “Every year, the events get bigger, the fans get more passionate and the competition gets better. Our production teams get really invested in these championships and the stories of these teams, and it’s truly special. We feel like we get to know these young women as people and athletes, and we’re just honored to cover them. Our team actually gets sad when certain student-athletes graduate because we feel like we’ve spent so much time getting to know them, and cheering them on.”
As ESPN continues its unmatched commitment to celebrating the extraordinary accomplishments and remarkable passion surrounding women’s sports, fans can expect more programming minutes, more winning moments and more trophy ceremonies for women’s collegiate athletics across ESPN networks than ever before.