ESPN’s Sara Gaiero: Broadcasting the WNBA In Its 25th Season Is “A Great Responsibility”
New season will open in REMI workflows with hopes of getting more resources to site throughout the year
It’s a milestone year for the WNBA. Heading into its twenty fifth season, the WNBA and its broadcast partners at ESPN, CBS Sports, and NBA TV are ready for a year of not only celebration but significant momentum for the league.
The WNBA tips off with four games on Friday evening but, for ESPN, the year begins with a nationally-broadcast doubleheader on ABC on Saturday afternoon (Chicago Sky visits the Washington Mystics at 1 p.m. ET followed by Las Vegas Aces at Seattle Storm at 3 p.m. ET).
The “Worldwide Leader” has been side-by-side with the WNBA since the league first debuted in 1997 and for those working on those game broadcasts today, its an opportunity that the crew behind the scenes relishes.
“It’s an awesome moment for all of the people here that work on the WNBA,” says Sara Gaiero, senior managing producer, ESPN. “It’s tremendous to think that for 25 years, we’ve been part of bringing this sport to our fan base. To see the growth of the sport and to see how the athletes have evolved and become so strong and powerful with their voices on and off the court has been truly amazing to watch over the 25 years. It’s just an honor. It’s a great honor and I take great responsibility in doing right by the W and this sport and finding ways throughout the season to celebrate this league through our production. It’s just a great responsibility to be leading this initiative this year.”
ESPN will open the season relying largely on REMI (or “at home”) production workflows with live games being cut from either of ESPN’s facilities in Bristol or Charlotte. That includes the “Live from Home” model that allow on-air announcers and analysts to call games from their own set ups at their homes.
There’s plenty of familiarity there as WNBA has been produced this way for many years at the network, but Gaiero says that as COVID vaccination rates increase/COVID-19 cases decline and more arenas across the league open up, the goal is to ramp up those on-site resources.
“It’s our intention to get our crew out to site,” she says, “but we are keeping health and safety in the forefront of all of our decision making. We’re still very mindful of what’s going on around us. I think this provides us the opportunity to make enhancements that we can roll it out where it makes sense and learn from what we’ve done and then make improvements upon that. I do think that it’ll be different come September, October.”
ESPN also has plans in place to develop a slate of features and interviews to celebrate the first 25 years of the WNBA. One date on the schedule that Gaiero says to keep an eye on is the showdown between the New York Liberty and the Los Angeles Sparks on June 20. Its a meeting of the two teams that played in the very first WNBA game – nearly 25 years to the date – on June 21, 1997. “We’re earmarking that as our ultimate celebration of everything that has happened in the 25 years of this league,” she says.
When reflecting on the 25 years of the WNBA one would be ill-advised to neglect the impact of ESPN’s Vice President, Women’s Sports Programming and Acquisitions Carol Stiff. A veteran of ESPN for more than 30 years, Stiff leads the networks’s efforts in the WNBA and NCAA women’s basketball and played a critical role in first bringing women’s basketball to the national television masses. She is also slated to be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as a part of its 2021 class.
“[Carol] was there Day One that this league started and it’s her advocacy of this league and of this sport and her constant persistence to push for visibility that have made such a huge difference,” says Gaeiro. “All of that is why we’re here celebrating 25 years. She’s been an amazing person behind the scenes for this league and we wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t who she is. She is truly a legend and I’m so grateful to be able to work with her.”
The WNBA season at ESPN begins with a doubleheader on ABC this Saturday. Chicago Sky visits the Washington Mystics at 1 p.m. ET followed by Las Vegas Aces at Seattle Storm at 3 p.m. ET.