When ESPN and the NCAA announced their new multiplatform rights agreement in December, the groundwork was laid for more extensive exposure for many of the “lesser-covered” sports. This spring, fans ranging from baseball and softball to lacrosse and track have access to more live championship content than ever before.
The agreement covers 600-plus hours and 300 telecasts of live coverage annually across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN 3D, ESPN Mobile, ESPN FULL COURT, GamePlan, Buzzer Beater, Goal Line, ESPN International, ESPN Deportes, ESPN.com, and WatchESPN, with many of the 24 championships produced in HD on ESPN HD, ESPN2 HD, and ESPNU HD.
“With our new agreement, we’ve gone a bit deeper [in our coverage], especially on ESPN3,” says Bess Barnes, director of programming and acquisitions at ESPN. “For outdoor track and field, what used to just be the smaller television window, we’ve expanded to cover two additional days, Thursday and Friday, live on ESPN3. It’s a great platform for outdoor track.”
The numbers for this spring are staggering. More than 125 hours of NCAA Division I Softball Championship coverage will air beginning Friday May 18, including the entire Women’s College World Series from Oklahoma City. All 15 games, more than 30 hours, of the NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship will be telecast, beginning this Saturday. Nearly 250 hours will be broadcast from the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship beginning Friday June 1, including the entire College World Series from Omaha.
The new deal also introduces 14 hours of NCAA Championship programming new to ESPN with Division I Outdoor Track & Field and Division I Women’s Lacrosse.
“Outdoor [track] is something new, and, for us, the challenge from the programming perspective is that it falls during the time of the year that we already have a lot of other NCAA coverage,” says Barnes, noting that track championships fall on the same weekend as baseball Super Regionals. “So the challenge for us is how do we carve out the right window for track and field to make sure that we are covering the right events. What we were able to do is work with the NCAA to slide a baseball Super Regional back a few hours to make sure we maximize the exposure for track.”
Although the NCAA spring sports do not have the number of viewers typically associated with football and basketball, ESPN is still excited about the coming month of college coverage.
“The audience loves a tournament; they love the crowning of a champion,” says Barnes. “We find that, while the casual fan may not be watching, say, regular-season college baseball, they will find the College World Series on our air and watch in avid fashion.”