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Storytelling With Star Power: Inside ESPN’s Multi-Platform Approach To WNBA Coverage This Season

Coordinating producer Sara Gaiero: "The challenge to our team is to continue storytelling. Fans will come and want to learn even more about these players."

ESPN’s 26th season of WNBA coverage tipped off last weekend with three games and continues this Saturday, May 14, with Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury facing Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm (3 p.m. ET) – the first of four straight WNBA games that ABC will broadcast through May 28.

ESPN coordinating producer Sara Gaiero
(Kelly Backus/ ESPN Images)

While ESPN has been a WNBA rights-holder since the league’s inaugural season in 1997, the level of support for the W this year is unprecedented. ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC, along with ESPN Deportes, combine for 25 nationally-televised games – and as many as 52 total games through the postseason and WNBA Finals.

“We’re at a tipping point where there is such a thirst and a desire for more women’s sports and WNBA content,” said coordinating producer Sara Gaiero, now in her third season overseeing ESPN’s WNBA presentation. “The challenge to our team is to continue storytelling [watch an in-game example above]. Fans will come and want to learn even more about these players. It’s an exciting opportunity for all of us.”

Here are Three Things to Know about ESPN’s plans for the 2022 WNBA Season:

BIG GAMES, BIG STARS

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Basketball legends Diana Taurasi (L) and Sue Bird were special ESPN commentators for the 2022 Women’s Final Four (above); they’re WNBA foes on ABC this weekend. (ESPN)

“Our programming team did a terrific job with the lineup of games this year,” said Gaiero. “We really leaned into the top teams.”

The Las Vegas Aces, Storm, Mercury, and defending WNBA champion Chicago Sky are among this year’s title contenders. They are all featured prominently on ESPN’s schedule. These teams boast many of the biggest stars in the game – A’ja Wilson (Aces), Bird (Storm), Taurasi (Mercury), and Candace Parker (Sky), to name just a few.

Gaiero is particularly excited about this upcoming four-game stretch of ABC games starting Saturday with Phoenix at Seattle – reuniting Taurasi and Bird, who were last seen together clanging red solo cups together on ESPN’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Megacast (see above). “The competition on the floor is going to be terrific,” adds Gaiero.

Speaking of stars, the WNBA recently announced its 2022 All-Star Weekend plans for July 9-10 in Chicago. ESPN will present the Skills Challenge and 3-Point Shot Contest for the first time, followed by the All-Star Game on ABC.

“Our goal is to really make All-Star Weekend feel big and important because it is. It’s not just an isolated game,” said Gaiero. “Now we have coverage that we can lean on through the weekend that we can build up towards.”

The ratings potential for the entire season is huge. A year ago, WNBA regular-season viewership increased 49 percent over 2020, and half of the top-10 most-viewed WNBA regular-season games on ESPN networks since 2012 aired last season.

COMMENTATOR LINEUP

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(ESPN)

“I’m thrilled with our broadcast team,” said Gaiero. “They deliver insightful analysis and have such great chemistry, and we are pleased to add more new voices this season.”

ESPN’s lead team of Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo and Holly Rowe is back and will call Saturday’s game on ABC. In the studio, host/analyst LaChina Robinson leads a talented collection of diverse voices. Among the WNBA newcomers are Tiffany Greene, highly-accomplished WNBA player and coach Stephanie White, and Terrika Foster-Brasby, who will serve as a reporter for select games for the first time.

CROSS-PLATFORM CONTENT

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During Tip-Off Weekend, ESPN’s television coverage included WNBA features by Elle Duncan and special correspondent Angela Rye, as well as a powerful Outside The Lines story by Rowe on the miraculous comeback of Diamond DeShields (read the story on ESPN.com, watch the video above). League stars Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart also made guest appearances on NBA Today and SportsCenter, respectively.

On ESPN.com/espnW, women’s basketball writers Mechelle Voepel and Alexa Philippou filed multiple opening week stories – among other top writers – and will be must-follows all season for news, analysis, features, and more. On Andscape, women’s hoops writer Sean Hurd also had a pair of compelling Tip-Off Week stories.

Christine Williamson will host WNBA Hoop Streams presented by Google digital/social pregame shows this season, while Monica McNutt – in addition to her studio role – is voicing ESPN’s season-long WNBA campaign “We’re All About It,” which features animated elements by Walker TKL.

ESPN Fantasy Women’s Basketball – the first season-long, full-scale fantasy game dedicated to a major women’s sport – also debuted with the start of the new WNBA season.

All of these touchpoints demonstrate ESPN’s companywide commitment to the WNBA and the sport of women’s basketball, which should make for a memorable and exciting season.

From the 2021 WNBA All-Star Game: Sue Bird (6) of the USA Women and DeWanna Bonner (14) of Team WNBA. (Kelly Backus/ESPN Images)
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