The women's Final Four will feature a second-screen experience with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi on ESPN.
After a successful unveiling of their second-screen experience “Smack Talk” with Sue Bird and A’ja Wilson earlier in the year, ESPN has revamped the experience for the women’s Final Four, this time featuring longtime friends and UConn legends Bird and Diana Taurasi.
The second edition of “Smack Talk” (redubbed “Championship Talk”) will look to take everything good about the first one—the good-natured ribbing between the players, the storytelling aspect of having players in the booth—and amplify it. Pat Lowry, the coordinating producer of the experience who joined ESPN in 2002 and served as director of the College Football Playoff Megacast, is excited to bring a unique experience to fans looking for something different.
“I want this to be fun for them,” Lowry said of the experience. “This isn’t sitting down and prepping and looking at film and analyzing the X’s and O’s. I think some of that will come naturally but it’s not like they have to do that kind of prep coming in. It’s really about the two of them and what they would say watching a game at home.”
Lowry’s hope is that the connection between Bird and Taurasi will entice viewers to seek a different type of telecast. And for those that tune in, ESPN has a few treats in store. Special guests who represent the other three schools will be on hand to join Bird and Taurasi on the broadcast, such as Eddy Ionescu (Sabrina’s twin brother); Max Graves, son of Oregon coach Kelly Graves; former Baylor player Nina Davis and representatives from Notre Dame that weren’t yet secured at the time of the interview.
The added guests should add an interesting dynamic to the broadcast, with Ionescu and Graves able to offer insight onto the Ducks’ star player and much-heralded coach that’s otherwise unheard of. Davis, who is no stranger to ESPN, can give some nuggets on this Lady Bears team as well. But the real crown jewel will surround which Fighting Irish players show up in the booth, as Notre Dame and UConn share a heated rivalry that will likely see each broadcaster open up about their experience at school as well provide plenty of fuel for trash talk during the second semifinal.
This experience calls for shrewd voices inside the sport and you'd be hard-pressed to find smarter ones than those of Bird and Taurasi. Bird is a fantastic commentator and she has the capability to carry most broadcast teams, which should mesh well with Taurasi’s famous outspoken personality. The broadcast could also feature a pre-taped segment with the players detailing stories of when they were in school—and really, who doesn’t want a potential behind-the-scenes look at Auriemma’s operation?
A broadcast like this, much like the College Football Playoff Megacast, has the potential to bring in a bevy of new fans looking for a non-traditional way to watch the games in a more digital, less stringent age.
“I think a younger audience would maybe like this presentation even better than a traditional presentation,” Lowry said, noting that one her sons prefers the Snapchat version of SportsCenter in lieu of watching it on TV. “That’s always my hope with anything that we’re trying to do. Always growing the game, getting more viewers, it’s an incredible game and once people experience it, especially at the Final Four, you’re seeing some really high-quality basketball.”
This revamped version of “Smack Talk” certainly has the capability to change the way some viewers look at women’s college basketball. A more relaxed style—with plenty of production muscle behind it—is likely to be a hit for viewers looking for a different way to watch the Final Four, and having two of the best players to ever play the game doesn’t hurt either. With at least four hours to flex their smack-talking muscles and plenty of stories promised to be unearthed during the games, it should be an interesting experience that brings a bit of unexpected flair back to the broadcast booth.