ESPN will host the first of three women's basketball "College GameDay" events in Knoxville, Tennessee, as No. 4 UConn visits Tennessee on Jan. 26, the network announced Tuesday. The other two matchups will be announced later.
This is an opportunity for ESPN to capitalize on the historic viewership of the 2022 women’s national championship, which garnered 4.85 million viewers on its networks.
"On the men's side, they do 'College GameDay' what is it, every week? It's a very consistent staple," ESPN analyst Andraya Carter told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Before last season, "College GameDay" had not featured a women's basketball game in 11 years.
ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck told the News Sentinel that ESPN vice president of production Patricia Lowry was integral in pushing for that to change. She added that the whole team will continue advocating for more coverage because "women's basketball is a product that deserves it."
How South Carolina, UConn and Tennessee moved the needle
Last season, ESPN brought "College GameDay" to South Carolina for its first women's basketball trip in 11 years.
Before that, UConn (2010) and Tennessee (2011) hosted the only two editions of "College GameDay" for women's basketball.
Then came the 2022 NCAA women's national championship game between South Carolina and UConn. It was a turning point in the discussion about the visibility of women's basketball, and Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley was a consistent advocate.
Ahead of the tournament, which was called March Madness for the first time ever, Staley spoke to CNN about the progress.
"We have to be treated like a sport. Like a real sport. Like a revenue-producing sport," she told CNN. "I don’t know if it’s going to be on the magnitude of what 'March Madness' is for the men. But I know one thing, they invested in it."
As South Carolina defeated the 11-time champion Huskies in front of a sellout crowd, television viewers peaked at 5.91 million. It was the most-watched title game in nearly two decades and the most-watched collegiate basketball game, men's or women's, to air on ESPN since 2008.
The game passed UConn and Tennessee's 2004 final in views, a title game that 5.58 million people tuned in to watch the Huskies win.
Now, a short-handed UConn will be featured on "College GameDay" on Jan. 26 as the rivalry continues, and it seems inevitable that South Carolina will be included in ESPN’s forthcoming announcements.