ESPN NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Weekend Production Goes Big as Ratings Soar

Drone, Railcam, expanded use of AR graphics and more highlight production efforts

The 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship on ESPN has been delivering big ratings so it’s only fitting that the Final Four tonight and the Final on Sunday afternoon get a big treatment as well. More than 40 cameras will be deployed around American Airlines Center in Dallas, including a SkyCam and a railcam, and there will also be a pre-game studio show outside on the plaza.

ESPN’s Women’s FinalFour production boasts 42 cameras between the court, Diana Taurasi, studio programming & backstage area. Viewers will see all these angles utilized across ESPN platforms – including specialized feeds for ‘Beyond the Rim’ & ‘On the Rail’ available on ESPNPlus

“Clearly we’re thrilled with the ratings, but we’re also thrilled with the production as across the board everyone is 100% into it,” says Pat Lowry, ESPN, VP, Production. “At one point we had 16 production teams and two studio teams going and you could go from one to the next without feeling there was a drop off in the quality. It’s a really good place to be. Our operations teams have been killing it and giving us everything we want.”

ESPN Remote Operations Supervisor Catherine Carroon says the partnership with production has been greater than ever as the productions for each round have gotten bigger.

“It was great to be able to put so many extra resources towards these really well deserving games,” she adds.

In terms of specialty cameras, look for good things out of the combination of a Sony HDC-4800 camera with a Fujinon’s new Duvo 25-1000 lens. Lowry points to a shot captured earlier in the tournament in Seattle when women’s hoops legend Sue Bird came out to speak with the University of Iowa team during their shoot around.

“The shot goes from the players to [Iowa Star and Women’s College Player of the Year] Caitlin Clark who is standing behind them smiling and the camera focus changes to Caitlin and I was geeked out by it as she had this big smile as she met one of her heroes for the first time,” she says.

Also look for virtual graphics to be deployed to enhance coverage from a drone as well as a jib. The drone is a new addition and there will be two jibs: one inside and then one outside with the studio show set.

“The outdoor set is going to add a great dynamic because it’s on the plaza which will be electric, especially when we get to the red carpet moment [during arrivals on Sunday],” says Carroon.

Adds Lowry: “The red carpet will be for student arrivals, and it gives us a different opportunity for things as we will also do segments tomorrow for the men’s College GameDay Show.”

NEP’s EN1, which is best known for its role at the center of Monday Night Football, is on hand and maxed out for the show.

“With 42 cameras and then 26 outbound and about seven returns we are maxed out,” says Carroon. “But it’s been a great partnership with NEP and the engineers on EN1. I really enjoy that continued partnership and it’s the right truck for this show.”

This weekend also sees the return of the Megacast and, most notably, the return of The Bird & Taurasi Show Presented by AT&T featuring collegiate and WNBA legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. From a production standpoint there was not enough room in the compound for a production truck to handle the show (CBS Sports pops in tomorrow for the Division II and Division III women’s championships) so the show will be done as a REMI in Charlotte as Bristol’s control rooms are busy.

“We have 13 paths out of Charlotte giving Sue and Diana all the returns they need, and we also built the set in a section which was a feat in and of itself,” says Carroon. “But overall, we’re glad it’s back.”

Additional MegaCast feeds include Beyond the Rim which will provide a feed of the SkyCam (with main telecast commentary and replays, supported by an enhanced statistical feed) and On the Rail which is a feed from the railcam alongside the court.

The RailCam is back at the Women’s Final Four for ESPN (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

“I am a director by trade and if you’re watching the SkyCam view you can always see who’s doing what away from the ball so it’s just a fun offering,” says Lowry. “And then On the Rail will be a cleaner version with no announcers, just natural sound and PA with a clock and scorebug. But that camera lets you see the speed of the game and how fast everything is moving.”

Viewership of last weekend’s Elite Eight averaged 2.2. million, up 43% from 2022 while the full tournament is averaging 660,000 viewers, up 42% year over year. And then there was the Sweet 16 round which averaged 1.2 million, a leap of 73%. Simply put, things are great in the world of women’s college hoops.

“I’ve never seen anything like this year where we’re setting records in every round, and not just by a little” says Lowry. “And you’re seeing stars like Clark who make it appointment viewing. So, to see it get to that point is really fantastic.”

Lowry says she is also proud of the women who are running all aspects of the effort.

“We have Catherine who is the lead on the operations side, [Producer] Beth Chappell who is my partner on the production side, and then Kerry Callahan is producing the game and Michelle Rosenhouse is producing the studio show,” she says. “And it’s great that they’re women but they’re also all the best person for the job. And that makes me super happy and super proud.”

Adds Carroon: “It’s great to see the interest this event has gained across our department. Abby Hurlbert, the coordinator on our team, is a former college basketball player and she’s like a kid in a candy store here. And that’s an extra special layer for me as her manager, giving her a chance to work on an event that I know she dreamed of playing in. This isn’t just a moment in the sun. It’s not going to go away…it’s just going to continue to grow.”

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters