ESPN streamlines its strategy for covering women's basketball

Media Watch

March 28, 1997|By MILTON KENT

CINCINNATI -- For ESPN planners and programmers, the most important three-pointer scored from this weekend's women's Final Four will not take place on the Riverfront Coliseum court.

The network, in the middle of its second year of full tournament coverage, is hoping to grab a rating that exceeds the 3.0 it got for the Kansas-Iowa State men's game in January. That's the highest rating of the year for a college basketball game, and with some luck, ESPN officials say they can get it.

"It's a lofty target and I'm not sure we can get it, but it shows the growth of the sport as a television vehicle," said Len DeLuca, senior vice president for programming development for ESPN.

DeLuca, a former attorney for Maryland coach Gary Williams, was one of the architects of CBS' college basketball strategy, and wants to get the women's game growing in much the same way.

Though the network's strategy of stacking the regional semifinals on Saturdays and the regional finals on Monday have drawn howls from some women's purists, DeLuca says it's the best way to avoid direct competition from the men's tournament, and presents data that 60 percent of all women's basketball viewers are men.

"We thought sports vs. the Oscars would be a good choice. We believe strongly that women's basketball deserves to be shown in a non-sports competitive arena," said DeLuca.

Monday's Tennessee-Connecticut Midwest regional final, which went directly against the Oscars, drew a 1.7 cable rating, and was seen in 1.2 million homes, which, of course, was nowhere near the audience the Academy Awards attracted, but beat the men's average of 1.4.

ESPN plans to go full board for this weekend, one of the few championship events the network carries, devoting 14 cameras to video delivery and making this weekend's games the first to be broadcast in stereo.

Mike Patrick and Ann Meyers will call tonight's semifinal games, starting at 7 p.m., pitting Stanford against Old Dominion in the opener and Tennessee against Notre Dame in the nightcap. They'll also work Sunday's final, beginning at 8 p.m., with on-scene help from Robin Roberts, Mimi Griffin, Rebecca Lobo, Beth Mowins and Nancy Lieberman-Cline.

Toss a coin

If you can pick out a clear-cut winner from the men's Final Four pool of North Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona and Minnesota, then you're one step ahead of CBS analyst Billy Packer.

"I've covered Final Fours since 1975, and this is the first time I can honestly say that all four teams are capable of winning their next game, which is the byproduct of where college basketball has gone. I will not be surprised by whatever team ends up on the podium Monday night," said Packer.

In theory, that should make for an interesting weekend, which begins tomorrow with a 90-minute pre-game show at 4 p.m., with Pat O'Brien as host, with help from Clark Kellogg, Quinn Buckner, George Raveling and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

That will be followed by the North Carolina-Arizona game at 5: 42 and the Minnesota-Kentucky clash afterward, called by Packer and Jim Nantz with Michele Tafoya and Andrea Joyce patrolling the sidelines.

The two winners will be dissected on a one-hour show Sunday at 5 p.m., and will meet for the championship Monday night at 9. All events will be carried on Channel 13, and WBAL (1090 AM) will carry the games on Saturday and Monday.

The Splinter speaks

For years, Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams had what can only be described as a tempestuous relationship with the media, and particularly the press.

"I never had any problem with radio or TV people. It was always something written that wasn't right," Williams said on a conference call the other day. "I was always being misquoted or the guy writing didn't know a damn thing about baseball."

In that regard, outside of his autobiography, Williams has shared little of his life with the public, essentially becoming a recluse in his Florida home.

However, Williams has agreed to be the subject of a one-hour ABC special Sunday at 3 p.m. (Channel 2), in which he sits down with Al Michaels to discuss his career, his feelings about the press and the game itself.

"I will enjoy this hour. The press has never gotten the best of me in any way, and I'll do everything I can do to make the show informative and entertaining," said Williams.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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