WNBA 2022 Preview: ESPN Elevates League’s Continued Growth With High-Profile Schedule

Both coaches and players will be miked up for games on ABC

The WNBA, having celebrated its 25th season in 2021, is looking forward to having even more to celebrate in 2022. ESPN will produce 25 of the 36-game schedule, the league’s largest regular-season slate ever, with a handful of technologies intended to bring fans closer to the high-quality matchups.

“It’s hard to pick only one game to be excited about,” says Sara Gaiero, coordinating producer, ESPN. “Our programming team did a terrific job with our lineup of games and really leaned into the top teams in the league.”

Game-Day Tech: REMI Productions, Miked Players and Coaches

Heading into the first weekend of games, the broadcaster is highlighting its linear coverage by giving viewers up-close–and–personal angles on their favorite players and coaches. As COVID-19 restrictions are eased, behind-the-scenes access is once again available, and, during national games televised on ABC, selected players and coaches will be miked to provide insight into team strategy and the variety of personalities on the court.

“We have the ability to track [these audio feeds] live, which is unique,” says Gaiero. “We want to see how we can improve this technology every year and allow fans to go a bit deeper into the huddle.”

As for any given broadcast on ESPN and ABC, the camera complement will hover near a double-digit total. The arsenal will include four hard cameras, three handhelds, and a scattering of robotic and POV units around each rim. On the operations end, the entire season will be produced via REMI from facilities in either Bristol, CT, or Charlotte, NC. For bigger productions, such as the 2022 WNBA Finals this summer, the broadcaster will tap its REMCO (or remote-controlled) workflow for offsite graphics and replay.

Besides Gaiero, the team producing the games remotely includes Producer Laurie Privitera, Production Manager Samantha Vanoni, and Associate Manager, Remote Operations, Leigh Michaud.

“The train doesn’t leave the station without their guidance and dedication,” notes Gaiero. “They put us in a great position to go into this season strong.”

Big-Time Storylines: Broadcasts Showcase Most-Notable Matchups

The three-month-long WNBA 2022 schedule on ESPN and ABC is packed with must-watch games. Coverage begins this weekend on ESPN2 with Connecticut Sun vs. New York Liberty at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 7, and a Mother’s Day doubleheader — Washington Mystics vs. Minnesota Lynx at 8 p.m. and Seattle Storm vs. Las Vegas Aces at 10 p.m. — on Sunday, May 8. The broadcaster’s national schedule starts a week later, with four straight games on ESPN: Phoenix Mercury vs. Seattle Storm on Saturday, May 14 at 3 p.m., Phoenix Mercury vs. Las Vegas Aces on Saturday, May 21 at 3 p.m., Chicago Sky vs. Washington Mystics on Sunday, May 22 at 3 p.m., and Las Vegas Aces vs. Chicago Sky on Saturday, May 28 at 3 p.m.

“Seeing the depth that these teams have,” says Gaiero, “we’re going into all of these games with the understanding that there’s going to be a lot of talent on the floor. We have some really strong matchups that will help during the crowded calendar of both NBA and NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

On the talent side, the network is bringing back an impressive cast of voices to cover the 2022 campaign. For live game coverage, games will feature a mixture of play-by-play commentators Ryan Ruocco, Pam Ward, and Tiffany Greene, analysts Rebecca Lobo, LaChina Robinson, and Stephanie White, and reporters Holly Rowe, Ros Gold-Onwude, and Terrika Foster-Brasby. In the studio, fans will hear from hosts Monica McNutt, Christine Williamson, and Robinson, and analysts Carolyn Peck and Andraya Carter. Spanish-language coverage will also be carried on ESPN Deportes with games being called by Kenneth Garay and Pablo Viruega. ESPN’s digital properties will also highlight this year’s action with the WNBA Hoop Streams pregame show on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and the ESPN App. Christine Williamson will host these shows 30 minutes prior to tip-off.

Two important dates await on the WNBA regular-season calendar: the 2022 All-Star Weekend in Chicago on Saturday, July 9 and Sunday, July 10 and the 2022 Commissioner’s Cup Championship on Tuesday, July 26. For the festivities-packed All-Star Weekend, ESPN will increase its large onsite presence and deploy additional equipment. The two-day event will comprise the 2022 MTN DEW 3-Point Contest and WNBA Skills Challenge on July 9 at 3 p.m. on ESPN and the 2022 All-Star Game on July 10 at 1 p.m. on ABC.

“Our goal is to make it feel like an All-Star Weekend and not an isolated game,” says Gaiero. “We’ll start promoting the teams and the captains about a week before to make it feel like a bigger event.”

New Player Intro: Looking Back at the 2022 WNBA Draft

Last year’s season tapped into the nostalgia of fans and illustrated how far the league has come, but last month’s WNBA Draft focused on its future, celebrating highly anticipated prospects after successful collegiate and amateur careers. The production was Gaiero’s third Draft but the first in-person version after  virtual events in 2020 and 2021. She and Director Susan Molinsky spotlighted the players’ backstories through interviews and analysis and their fashion sense on the Orange Carpet.

“It was great to be back onsite,” says Gaiero. “The energy that we experienced in the room was awesome. It gave us something to latch onto as we head into the season, and I was really pleased with our coverage.”

The overall sports calendar has ESPN in an advantageous situation. After a Women’s March Madness tournament that featured the upset of defending champion Stanford University and the second championship victory for the University of South Carolina since 2017, the broadcaster’s hosting the WNBA Draft worked out well.

“We try to capitalize on the women’s-college-basketball audience,” Gaiero explains. “It has been a priority for us and the WNBA because the Championship Game, the Draft, and the start of the regular season happen within a one-month period.”

Writing the League’s Next Chapter: ESPN Promotes a New Generation of Superstars

Positive momentum and large-scale attention is at an all-time high. Viewership is up, multiple players will be debuting with new franchises, and the next wave of superstars will soon have their first chance at showing off what they can offer. With more eyeballs on the league and its product, ESPN is striving to increase its coverage and differentiate the material from years past.

“There’s an increased thirst and a desire for more WNBA content,” notes Gaiero. “As we go into Season 26, the challenge is to improve the storytelling in all of our different spaces. If we can do that successfully and flood our linear and digital platforms with these stories, people will continue to come [and watch the WNBA]. It’s also our job to build up the next group of players into household names.”

The challenge can be seen as an opportunity. With a determined crew working each game and a clear plan, Gaiero is looking forward to the season.

“I hold this responsibility of producing these games close to my heart,” she says. “I have no doubt that our team is going to execute the way that we know we can execute. For two hours during each game, we’ll be there to document, educate, entertain, and have some fun.”

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