For years, the question has been posed this way: when will networks boost women’s sports by putting them in a position to be seen more?
But the truth is, as we’ve seen in several announcements this week: the women’s college basketball national championship, which will air on ABC in the spring of 2023, and the NWSL championship game, which will be played in prime time audience on CBS on October 29, that sports have the audience and, with every new opportunity, a track record that makes it a no-brainer for networks to put major events on bigger platforms. In fact, it is not a favor to women’s sport. It will help networks stem the tide of ratings that are shrinking in just about every other way.
Let’s start with ESPN’s decision to move the national title game, widely expected to feature Aliyah Boston and South Carolina, to ESPN’s ABC.
“It’s a landmark ad for women’s basketball in being able to show the national championship game in Dallas to an expanded audience on ABC for the first time in 2023,” said NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee Chair Beth Goetz. and athletic director. at BallState. “We are grateful to ABC/ESPN for the partnership in the continued growth of the game and the championship.”
I mean, sure. But last year, the national championship game, on ESPN, drew 4.46 million viewers. It crushed every other cable TV show that night. And it was on par with what ABC showed that night, including American Idol.
The reason this is misleading, of course, is because broadcast television can reach north of 120 million households. ESPN? 76 million and falling rapidly. It’s almost impossible to imagine a rating for next year’s national title game that doesn’t increase dramatically, and even a small increase will mean ABC is the clear beneficiary of this move.
As for the NWSL title game on CBS, the numbers are more complicated. There’s no real baseline for the championship: Last season it drew 525,000 eyeballs, a big jump from 2019, but still reflects a noon time slot. It’s a chance for CBS to see what the NWSL title game camera gains in viewership with 60 Minutes as its intro, something I think it’s fair to say none of us who’ve covered the league could imagine as recently as it does. some years. , when NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush, now deceased, used to make arrangements for the league to be on television in the middle of the season.
However, CBS has another vital reason to improve the way they market and present the NWSL: their deal with the league is coming to an end. And unlike the years of Plush, there is a growing realization in the television landscape that live women’s sports is a potential goldmine for ratings.
Jessica Berman, who is not Jeff Plush, has emphasized the importance of broadcast windows in any new television deal.
It’s safe to say: CBS heard her.