With a pair of No. 1 seeds meeting in the opener and perennial powers
Connecticut and Tennessee clashing in the Final Four nightcap March 29, ESPN
hopes to build on the solid numbers its coverage of the Women's NCAA Basketball
Championships' Elite Eight games produced Monday night.
The pair of March 25 contests on ESPN -- featuring UConn dominating Old
Dominion and Tennessee topping Southeastern Conference rival Vanderbilt --
averaged a 1.18 household rating, up 6 percent from a 1.11 average with the 2001
tourney, according to Nielsen Media Research data.
ESPN said that performance marked the first time the Elite Eight had
delivered more than 1 million households on average for the network (1.01
million), and it marked its highest average since 1999.
ESPN2's coverage the same night of the other Elite Eight matchups -- Duke
taking out South Carolina and Oklahoma ousting Colorado -- didn't fare as well,
averaging a 0.62, down from a 0.80 average in 2001.
Part of the reason: the overlap of games on the networks.
That will change next year when -- in the first year of an 11-year deal
valued at an estimated $160 million -- ESPN and ESPN2 will combine to air all 63
Tipping off in 2003, ESPN and ESPN2 will regionalize early round coverage by
presenting 48 games within 22 telecast windows (12 first-round windows, 10
second-round windows) with different games offered to different areas of the
Beginning with the regional semifinals, all of the 15 remaining contests will
be televised nationally, culminating with the Final Four.
Moreover, the tournament -- in a nod toward enhancing its primetime exposure
by separating dates from the men's 'March Madness' -- will move the first two
rounds one day later and spread the regional semifinals and finals over four
days in a Saturday-through-Tuesday format (as opposed to the current two-day
Additionally, the Final Four will shift to a Sunday/Tuesday format from its
present Friday/Sunday schedule -- a modification that will make the women's
final the last game of the college season.