A year ago, ESPN’s college basketball programming didn’t have the same immediacy as it does now.
For the first time in almost a decade, ESPN aired the Final Four, the national championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines, without the traditional live coverage that ESPN has historically featured.
The decision was made by ESPN President John Skipper in a meeting with college basketball executives and members of the media, with the primary goal of creating a more robust and diverse college basketball lineup that would appeal to a broader audience.
ESPN will now air the Final 4 in a more intimate manner, with live coverage of the final game, as well as the NCAA championship game, the quarterfinals and the semifinals.
“The Final Four is one of the most unique events in college basketball history, and our viewers have come to expect the best in coverage,” Skipper said.
“Our decision to move the Final 40 to the ESPNU platform was driven in large part by the growth of college basketball over the past several years and our desire to be the home for the sport that matters to our viewers.”
ESPNU will also include more college basketball games and features that are exclusive to ESPN, including exclusive interviews and exclusive content from players, coaches and their representatives.
The changes, which come as the network continues to expand its college basketball slate, are part of a plan to better compete with the likes of ESPN, CBS and Fox Sports.
ESPN said in a statement that “the Final Four will not only help ESPN reach its audience, but also will continue to be a key platform for our content creators and fans.”
ESPN has also been able to retain a larger audience over the years by having more games than the network’s traditional sports offerings, which typically consist of games on cable or satellite networks.
For example, ESPN has averaged more than 1 million viewers per game since 2009, when the network added the Final Eight.
ESPN has seen its viewership growth in the last few years, particularly in the ratings and audience for college basketball.
In 2016, the network averaged about 2.1 million viewers.
“We know we have to continue to provide more and better sports content to our audiences, and we are excited to be able to continue our partnership with ESPN on this important and important project,” Skips said.
The announcement comes as ESPN has had to deal with a variety of factors as it tries to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive landscape.
Earlier this year, the ESPN and CBS television networks announced that they would cease production of College GameDay, which aired on ESPNU, in 2019.
Earlier that year, ESPN was hit with a class-action lawsuit from former employees who alleged that the network had retaliated against them for bringing up the fact that they were being paid less than their counterparts at other cable networks.
The suit was settled in January, and the networks are still paying the employees who were affected.