It seems like women’s sports face constant scrutiny on a litany of issues. Chief among those issues—and easy fodder for Twitter trolls—is the trope that women’s sports don’t bring in viewers.
Go on a shallow social media dive to any female professional athlete's page and surely there will be a bevy of comments that all seem to be saying the same thing: “no one watches this, so why should we care?”
Those comments are wildly misguided and often show ignorance of how popular women’s sports are. But if you’re going to bring in new viewers to anything, you have to be willing to experiment with your project.
Enter “Smack Talk with Sue and A’ja”.
As part of ESPN’s coverage of the UConn-South Carolina, a separate broadcast was provided on ESPN3 featuring three-time WNBA champion and UConn legend Sue Bird sharing some light-hearted trash talk with 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year and 2017 NCAA champion with South Carolina, A’ja Wilson.
The jokes were kept playful with the two’s disparity in age getting a lot of play—Bird was the oldest player in the WNBA last season, while Wilson was among the youngest— but the pair showed plenty of broadcasting chops.
Wilson has been working as an analyst with the SEC Network and ESPN for the past few months and, in another life, could have made a great broadcaster straight out of college. Her uncontrollable glee when watching the Gamecocks made a basket was a delight to experience.
Bird, who will return for her 17th WNBA season and currently works as a basketball operations associate for the Denver Nuggets, was no slouch behind a microphone either, bringing a lot of interesting points to the table and breaking down the game action with a veteran’s eye. She also provided an inside look into some of UConn’s offensive sets
Her allegiance to UConn is well worn and watching her live and die with every bucket before the Huskies began to pull away showed how much the college game still means to her, even 17 years removed from UConn’s campus.
The broadcast showed exactly what some outside-the-box thinking can provide for under-covered sports. During the third quarter, as UConn was going on its run and putting South Carolina out of reach, Bird and Wilson departed the desk during a couple timeouts to report on what their former respective coaches were drawing up.
Small things like that bring legitimate interest to a broadcast, as does watching Wilson bang three fingers against her head—a la Carmelo Anthony—when a Gamecock hit a three. The same goes for Bird rocking back and forth with each Huskies’ shot and then capitalizing on her former team’s heavy lead to get some extra shots in at Wilson.
ESPN has done similar broadcasts like this for other sports in which their analysts hang out in a room and talk as the game unfolds. And if women’s basketball is going to be the next to join the wave, it can only help bring more eyes to a sport that typically doesn’t receive enough coverage or attention.
South Carolina came into the XL Center as heavy underdogs and left with their sixth loss of the season while UConn picked up its 22nd victory of the season.
But the real winner of the night was ESPN and its newest innovation. Here’s hoping it becomes a reoccurring feature.