CBS and ESPN are making logical decisions regarding a pair of women’s championship events in the coming months.
On Tuesday, ESPN announced that the Women’s Basketball Championship would air on ABC at 3 PM ET on Sunday, April 2nd. The event had previously aired on cable. The two Final Four games, however, will still be on ESPN, airing on Friday, March 31st at 7 PM and 9:30 PM ET.
Over the last two years, a number of women’s college hoops games have aired on ABC, including several from the NCAA Tournament. However, the title game has not gotten the broadcast TV treatment.
“Scheduling the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship on ABC has been a goal for quite some time in our ongoing efforts to maximize the exposure of women’s sports in collaboration with the NCAA,” said Burke Magnus, President, Programming and Original Content. “Women’s NCAA Championships continue to generate strong audiences across the ABC/ESPN networks and this move represents yet another unique opportunity to showcase this marquee event and the student-athletes who are competing for a national championship.”
Last season’s NCAA Women’s Tournament Championship game between South Carolina and UConn drew 4.85 million viewers on ESPN, the best viewership for the game since 2004. That game began at 6 PM ET.
I feel like the game taking place in the afternoon rather than in primetime is a missed opportunity, but that was an NCAA decision rather than an ESPN decision.
Not to be outdone, CBS announced that the NWSL Championship game would be moving to primetime on the CBS broadcast network. Coverage will begin at 8 PM ET on Saturday, October 29th, with the game also streaming on Paramount+. Last year’s game aired on broadcast at noon ET on November 20th, drawing 525,000 viewers.
The shift into primetime is huge, though competition for eyeballs will be fierce. While start times have yet to be announced for most of the college football schedule, one of either Ohio State-Penn State or Michigan State-Michigan will likely air in primetime on ABC (with the other getting Fox’s Big Noon timeslot). Ole Miss-Texas A&M could also be a primetime game on ESPN. CBS is giving the NWSL one hell of a lead-in, however – they’ve already announced Florida-Georgia in the SEC’s afternoon timeslot.
Both of these decisions are logical, and should result in increased viewership for both events. We’ve seen that if networks try even just a little bit to promote women’s sports instead of relegating them to the backwaters, viewership increases will follow (the 2022 WNBA season was the league’s best since 2008, for instance), and CBS and ESPN are doing their part.