WNBA Tipoff 2023: As ‘Superteam’ Era Dawns, ESPN Adds Above-the-Rim Cameras, Dedicated Pregame Studio Programming
Covering the return of Brittney Griner, ESPN will deploy REMCO workflow twice this weekend
The WNBA tips off its 27th season on Friday night, and ESPN, which has been broadcasting the league since its inception in 1997, is ready with a production plan to deliver grander and more widespread coverage of the “The W” through the year.
A total of 24 regular-season games will be carried on linear (either ESPN or ABC), and this year’s WNBA All-Star Game (July 15 in Las Vegas) will be on ABC in primetime.
It all begins in earnest on Friday, with four WNBA games on the schedule. ESPN will broadcast the Phoenix Mercury at Los Angeles Sparks game (11 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN+), which will mark the highly anticipated return of six-time All-Star Brittney Griner, playing in her first game since being released from her controversial detainment in Russia.
Saturday will feature an afternoon doubleheader on ABC with Atlanta at Dallas at 1 p.m. and Las Vegas at Seattle at 3 p.m. The weekend wraps on Sunday with Chicago at Phoenix in Griner’s first home game (4 p.m., ESPN, ESPN+).
For this new WNBA season, ESPN is growing its efforts from both a production and a programming standpoint. In terms of production enhancements, the base package of cameras on every game is increasing and will now include above-the-rim robotics across the schedule. In fact, a feed of the above-the-rim cameras is being made available as a viewing option on ESPN3, a feature that ESPN offers during selected NBA games throughout the year.
“We’re aligning [our coverage plans] with the momentum of the sport,” says Sara Gaiero, senior managing producer, ESPN. “With the growth in viewership we have seen in both the WNBA and the [NCAA] Women’s Tournament, it was one of my focuses to make our coverage more robust to enhance how we document these games. For example, adding those ATRs [above-the-rim cameras] as part of our main base package is a big deal. I’m proud of how we’ve expanded our equipment complement.”
Operationally, ESPN is giving extra care to its coverage of the two Mercury games featuring Griner this weekend. Although the majority of ESPN’s WNBA coverage is done through its REMI model (which places the control room at ESPN’s Bristol, CT, campus), these games — as well as other key events in the year — will be produced via its “REMCO” workflow.
The major difference between a REMCO and a REMI is that, in a REMCO production, lead producer, director, technical director, assistant director, replay operators, and other functions are onsite in a truck, and the graphics producer, graphics operator, and the technology powering the scorebug work from a control room in Bristol. In a REMI workflow, the entire production team is located in a control room in either Bristol or ESPN’s facility in Charlotte, NC. In those cases, a small production truck pulls up to deliver gear and provide transmission and support for the onsite camera operators, audio techs, and on-air talent.
WNBA game coverage at ESPN has a new production team this season with Ian Gruca coming on as producer and Adam Bryant serving as director.
The operations team working with Gaeiro includes Operations Manager Shane Smith, Operations Specialist Michael Sullivan, Operations Supervisor Catherine Carroon, Senior Operations Coordinator Lindsay Hayden, and Operations Coordinators David Quintanilla and Abby Hurlbert.
The W is robust with storylines this season, perhaps most notably that the league is entering a new era of “Superteams,” with rosters in Las Vegas and New York brimming with talent and title aspirations. Moreover, an exciting influx of young talent is joining the league from the college ranks, including the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Indiana Fever: University of South Carolina alum Aliyah Boston.
As a result, storytelling will be key this season. A major addition to WNBA coverage on ESPN (and ABC) is WNBA Countdown Presented by Google, a pregame show planned to be hosted from ESPN’s South Street Seaport Studios in New York City (home to Get Up, Sunday NFL Countdown, and NBA Countdown). The show debuted during the 2022 WNBA postseason, and the plan is to offer this lead-in programming on at least 11 dates during the regular season.
“That Superteam narrative will be something that we lean into as the season progresses,” says Gaiero. “How do these teams jell? How are they progressing throughout the season? On the flip side, though, what I’m challenging our team to keep focused on is what teams are skating by that people aren’t paying attention to? A team like the Washington Mystics is a team we should all be on alert for. They made minimal changes throughout the offseason, and they were so close to advancing [in the playoffs] last year. I would not be surprised if they’re contending at the very end of the year.
“Clearly, we’ll follow the Brittney Griner storyline as the season progresses,” she continues. “How is that team rebounding; it was a very emotional season for them last year. And tracking the rookies is important for us. Boston, [Minnesota Lynx guard] Diamond Miller, and [Dallas Wings] forward Maddy Siegrist came in as big names from the NCAA Women’s Tournament, and we need to keep them in the mix. That can bridge the gap between college basketball and the WNBA and [encourage] those fanbases to come with us to the WNBA.”