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ESPN Reports Record-Breaking Viewership For College Softball

(Photo courtesy of Linda Donnelly)

When it comes to college softball coverage, recent viewership numbers prove that if you build it, they will come.

ESPN, the home of NCAA Division I softball coverage, saw record viewership totals across the board in 2019. Based on information released by ESPN's Press Room on Thursday, the network experienced double-digit viewership increases this season, including its best regular-season viewership since 2016, most-watched Super Regionals since 2008 and most-viewed Women's College World Series since 2015.

According to Nielsen, ratings were up 40% for regular-season games on ESPN networks this season. Additionally, postseason coverage of conference championships also experienced growth in 2019. The SEC led the way in that category, as this year's SEC tournament championship game between Alabama and Florida averaged 549,000 viewers, up 130% year-over-year.

This year's WCWS averaged one million viewers, up 20% year-over-year, while the WCWS championship series, which saw UCLA defeat Oklahoma for its 12th NCAA title, averaged more than 1.5 million viewers, up 13% year-over-year.

"I think [the viewership numbers] confirm something that we’ve known for the past couple of years," ESPN's senior director of college programming Dan Margulis told Softball America. "It’s something that we’ve really embraced, as other people have. We’ve increased our coverage both in the regular season and World Series."

ESPN's increase in college softball coverage this spring saw more than 125 games televised across its family of networks, as well as more than 1,000 games streamed on its digital platforms. According to Margulis, ESPN's new streaming subscription service, ESPN+, created unique opportunities to showcase teams outside of the Power Five, as squads from 20 different Division I conferences were featured in 2019.

"ESPN+ gave us an opportunity to feature teams from different conferences across the country this year," Margulis added.

If you ask Margulis, college softball possesses the perfect attributes for ratings success on ESPN.

"It has one of the most passionate fan groups around the sport," Margulis said. "The student-athletes are tremendous. It’s different from baseball—similar, but different. It’s its own unique sport. But one of its biggest strengths is that it’s a faster-moving sport. That helps with viewership."

Perhaps one of the most interesting stats released by ESPN following this year's WCWS relates to the viewership increases that took place in 2019 among various demographics. While viewership numbers increased steadily among women and girls this season, the growth that took place among the male demographic was especially striking. For men aged 18-34, WCWS viewership was up 45% this year, while boys in the 12-17 age group produced a 75% viewership increase.

"When you think about the women’s collegiate sports that have been successful [on ESPN], [softball] is one of the leaders of the pack," Margulis said. "It’s been tremendous."

As a result of college softball's proven success on ESPN's family of networks, Margulis says the media powerhouse will remain committed to covering the sport for the foreseeable future.

"We’re all on board for that," he said.

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