ESPN plans to treat college wrestling fans to its most extensive coverage ever of the NCAA Championships next month at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For the first time, fans will be able to watch all of the matches of their favorite wrestlers.
ESPN will provide coverage of all eight mats on its digital platform, ESPN3, and network coverage on ESPNU and ESPN will increase from 11-plus hours to 19 hours, covering all sessions of the championships March 20-22.
“We certainly have taken an aggressive approach this year for our coverage,” said Brent Colborne, director of Programming & Championships for NCAA Championships for ESPN. “We will be showcasing every single match and every single mat throughout the entire championship across our networks and platforms.”
The increased coverage also will boost ESPN personnel for the championships. Including ESPN3 mat reporters, about 15 announcers will be used to go with about 50 staffers.
Ratings for last year's championship round from Des Moines, Iowa, on ESPN were up 50 percent from 2012 (0.6 vs. 0.4), thanks to added excitement from Cornell wrestler Kyle Dake winning his fourth NCAA title at an unprecedented fourth different weight. Dake defeated Penn State's David Taylor, 5-4, at 165 pounds, the final match of the night, as Penn State won its third consecutive team title. Viewership for the finals increased 55 percent from 554,000 in 2012 to 860,000.
“Last year was a significant year of growth for us for a lot of reasons,” Colborne said. “One was the increased coverage we have year over year. We had a fantastic story in Kyle Dake and the Dake-Taylor matchup, which was tailor-made for ratings success. ... We want to look to continue to be aggressive and build off that momentum.”
The past four years, the most ESPN3 covered was four simultaneous matches. This year, all eight matches will be available, and PC viewers can watch up to four at one time. Each match will have a separate reporter. Digital ratings on ESPN3 and WatchESPN were up 12 percent from last year, with 12.68 million live minutes.
For the first time, ESPNU will cover the first and second sessions, and the semifinals Friday night will shift from ESPNU to ESPN for increased exposure.
ESPN3 also will provide ancillary coverage of the championship round. Colborne said ESPN3 is still deciding what it will offer, possibly different commentators from the TV coverage or a behind-the-scene look. The coverage will continue through ESPN commercial breaks.
“We are really trying to hone in on that over the next couple of weeks,” Colborne said.