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Viral Routines and Record Viewership: NCAA Gymnastics Set for the Spotlight Surrounding Championship Weekend

“This will be a mega experience for our gymnastics fans."

(L-R photos courtesy of Madi Webb and Maria Soares; Illustration: Amanda Brooks/ESPN)

ESPN’s longstanding commitment to women’s sports has been on full display the past few weeks, with the NCAA Women’s Final Four receiving the signature MegaCast treatment and the WNBA Draft live in primetime on ESPN. Up next is the 2022 National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships, flipping into action this Thursday (1 & 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and Saturday (1 p.m., ABC).

The viral nature of collegiate gymnastics has only increased over the years, with television viewership emerging alongside it. For ESPN vice president, production Maria Soares and senior social media specialist Madi Webb, these developments aren’t a surprise.

“I have worked in sports for three decades and working on college gymnastics has been a true gift,” Soares said. “We have Olympians and top elite gymnasts competing every week; what other sport can say that? Schools are so thankful for what TV has done for the sport, and they are true partners in our coverage.”

ESPN’s gymnastics presentation stands out among the rest because of the production’s emphasis on showing every routine rather than following a select handful of gymnasts. For two hours, the action is jam-packed and the production team makes the meet accessible to both the casual fan and the ‘gymternet,’ the passionate gymnastics fan base across the Internet.

“Every gymnastics meet is an opportunity to create a new fan,” Soares noted. “We never assume that everyone knows everything about the gymnasts, teams or even how a meet works. We really focus on navigating the story of the meet, throughout the meet. We want every fan, whether it’s their first or 100th meet, to build a connection to what is happening on the floor, and to totally understand what the scores mean at any given point.”

For Webb, a former competitive gymnast, amplifying gymnastics content was a point of emphasis when she joined ESPN’s social team in 2018. The sport has exploded to become the most-engaged women’s sport across ESPN social, driving more than 95 million impressions in 2022 alone. While she isn’t sharing the exact recipe to the secret social sauce, Webb thinks the sport has even more room to grow on social media and ESPN’s approach can advance with it.

“Gymnastics has so much more potential because every year, the athletes get more and more fun to watch,” Webb said. “Social media is always evolving and it’s important to try new things and see what works and what doesn’t. Whenever something fails, we take the time to figure out why it failed and try a new approach. Whenever something succeeds, we keep the momentum going.”

Whether the gymternet is tuning in to semifinal coverage on ESPN2 or the championship final on ABC, one of the apparatus feeds on the ESPN App or ESPN’s cross-platform social content, fans can customize how they consume this weekend’s action. For Soares, Webb and the entire ESPN gymnastics squad, they’re ready to stick the landing.

“This will be a mega experience for our gymnastics fans,” Soares noted. Said Webb, “I grew up around gymnastics, competed in it and now being given the opportunity to grow the sport from an ESPN social standpoint is just a dream. It’s the cherry on top to see gymnastics reach new heights (pun intended) on social media.”

L-R Sunisa Lee, Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum

Olympic Reunion

ESPN’s national semifinal coverage on ESPN2 will be one for the history books, as ESPN commentator and 2008 Olympian Samantha Peszek sits down with the four U.S. Olympic teammates turned collegiate stars. For the first time since their sensational summer performances in Tokyo, freshmen Jade Carey (Oregon State), Jordan Chiles (UCLA), Sunisa Lee (Auburn) and Grace McCallum (Utah) will reunite to discuss their debut collegiate seasons and their lives since leaving the Olympic Village. Thursday’s semifinals will air snippets of the conversation, with the full interview slated exclusively for ESPN.com.

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