ESPN announced Tuesday it will broadcast the 2023 NCAA Division I women's basketball championship game on ABC this spring.
This is the first time ABC will carry the women's title game.
"Scheduling the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship on ABC has been a goal for quite some time in our ongoing efforts to maximize the exposure of women’s sports in collaboration with the NCAA," said Burke Magnus, ESPN's president of programming and original content. "Women’s NCAA Championships continue to generate strong audiences across the ABC/ESPN networks and this move represents yet another unique opportunity to showcase this marquee event and the student-athletes who are competing for a national championship."
The announcement comes amid continued calls for ESPN to widen its scope of women's sports coverage at the college and pro levels. South Carolina's title-clinching victory over Connecticut this spring averaged 4.85 million viewers and peaked at 5.91 million, the highest viewership since 2004.
ESPN also received criticism in July when it initially declined to invite South Carolina star Aliyah Boston to the ESPY Awards, where she was a nominee for Best College Athlete in women's sports. Boston said she wouldn't attend the ceremony even after receiving an invitation in response to the outcry.
"While it hurt finding out that they wouldn't be televising the category despite it being televised last year, and had no intentions for me to attend... it hurt more to see ESPN change course and invite me only after social media caught wind of it," she said.
Aliyah A. Boston @aa_boston
I thank God for continuing to bless me, for guiding my steps, and for the love and support of my family, fans and community. I would like to say congratulations <a href="https://twitter.com/78jocelyn_alo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@78jocelyn_alo</a> and all the ESPY winners🎉 I remain thankful in all things. <a href="https://t.co/BkO2iPA8YS">pic.twitter.com/BkO2iPA8YS</a>
The disparities between the men's and women's basketball tournaments came to the fore when Oregon's Sedona Prince and others contrasted some of the amenities for the players inside their respective tournament bubbles in 2021.
That led to the NCAA's decision to retain Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP to undertake "a comprehensive and thorough external review of gender equity issues in connection with the NCAA."
Among its findings, Kaplan Hecker & Fink found the NCAA was leaving a significant amount of money on the table when it came to media rights for the women's basketball tournament.
The NCAA sold the broadcast rights for the women's tournament and 28 other championship events for around $34 million annually. Kaplan Hecker & Fink estimated the tournament could be worth between $81 million and $112 million when it's due to receive a new television contract in 2025.
The NCAA already addressed one issue highlighted in the report when it expanded the use of its "March Madness" branding to the women's tournament.