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Why ESPN Keeps Botching Their Women’s Hoops Coverage, and Why It’ll Probably Keep Doing It

During ESPN’s coverage of the WNBA Draft, they were criticized on Twitter for a variety of mistakes, including:

  • Showing on a graphic that Kentucky’s Maci Morris was drafted with the 36th pick, when it was actually South Dakota State’s Macy Miller
  • Misspelling the name of the 2018 WNBA MVP, Breanna Stewart
  • Showing on a graphic that the Minnesota Lynx has completed a trade with the Minnesota Lynx
  • Listing the wrong coach for the Seattle Storm
  • Listing the wrong team that Essence Carson has left
  • Listing the wrong college for Megan Gustafson

I’m probably missing a few from this list, but for just a couple of hours of coverage, it was a shocking rate of errors which started from the opening minutes of the show and carried through to the final draft pick of the night. Of course, all of this comes after ESPN ruined multiple bracket review parties by showing the bracket hours early on ESPNU.

There were some positives of their presentation.. The “talking heads” did a pretty good job throughout the show, the opening promo video was well done and on point (much better than the “Fate” stuff they did for the NCAA Tournament), and it was visually presented well in general. But, it’s hard to think that they would misspell Kevin Durant’s name or list the wrong college for Zion Williamson.

Overall, though, this wasn’t exactly a great night for ESPN, or by extension the WNBA.

I believe the reason for this is basically that ESPN has been shedding personnel – both on air & behind the scenes. Per the New York Times, ESPN laid off over 500 employees between 2015 and 2017. Of course, layoffs doesn’t mean that ESPN has not hired anyone back into those positions.

I think it’s a safe assumption that ESPN devotes the majority of their resources to their most popular sports – football, baseball, and men’s basketball. With the majority of their production work focused on those events, there’s less spent to the rarer broadcasts of the like of women’s basketball. In turn, this leads to questionable decisions and easily fixable errors, and these in turn reflect poorly on the product being presented.

The solution would seem to be a reinvestment into the production work across the board. This seems unlikely to happen any time soon. ESPN has infamously been losing money for years now, and Disney has been pushing them to make cuts to mitigate those losses. With several high dollar contracts for broadcasting rights having multiple years left on them, ESPN is stuck trying to trim their expenditures by cutting personnel costs.

In the face of the financial realities, I don’t see an easy solution that will benefit ESPN’s coverage of women’s hoops. It’d be nice if ESPN would invest sufficient money in their production so that they can avoid such simple mistakes, but with Disney breathing down their necks to turn a profit, it feels likely they’ll keep cutting any and all corners they can.

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