Last year, the WFTDA entered into a milestone partnership with ESPN to bring the final games of the 2015 WFTDA Championships to audiences on ESPN3, the online streaming portal of the sports giant.
Today, the roller derby giant announced the partnership will be continuing into 2016, this time with an additional event added to the calendar.
Once again, the third and final day of WFTDA Championships from the Rose City, which lands this year on November 6, will be carried live on ESPN3 in the United States. As before, international audiences will get to see all three days of Champs through the WFTDA.tv PPV feed, leaving us Americans with having to pay separately to watch the first two days.
In a lovely surprise, the WFTDA is also hopping over to ESPN3 (and WFTDA.tv internationally) on Saturday, April 30 to bring us two headline games from The Big O in Eugene, Ore. Rose City will take on Victoria in a potential Champs 2016 preview in the opener, followed by Texas and Angel City in a 2015 playoffs rematch.1
As we relayed last year, the terms of the WFTDA-ESPN3 deal gave both parties the option to opt out after the first of the initial two-year agreement. Neither took that option, seeing plenty of reasons to keep at it.
Especially for the WFTDA, which liked what it was seeing in terms of the numbers.
“By broadcasting the WFTDA Championships on ESPN3 in 2015 our audience for the weekend more than doubled from the previous year,” said Erica Vanstone, WFTDA Director of Broadcast. “We received such excellent coverage and online engagement from the event that it made sense for us to return to ESPN3 to see what we could continue building on together for 2016.”
Such a big jump in viewership is obviously great news. However, it was in many ways expected, and probably demanded, that it be that great. Any sport would naturally get a big bump by being on ESPN3, the Netflix of Live Sports. The WFTDA clearly did as well.
But there’s another factor to consider. Remember that the ESPN3 broadcast allowed the biggest WFTDA games of the year to come out from behind a paywall. Paying-per-view is a natural deterrent or an outright block to getting a lot of folks to watch an event live. This surely restricted, and continues to restrict, the potential reach of the playoff tournaments. Removing those restrictions would absolutely guarantee viewership would rise by some amount.
What the WFTDA needs to determine with its ESPN3 broadcasts this year is how much of the ratings increases are attributable to simply having shown the games for free—which it could easily and more cheaply do on its own webcast platform—versus how much of that increase came by way of new audiences that only ESPN3 is capable of bringing, justifying the additional expense of being on it.
To that end, the WFTDA was savvy in choosing to add a pair of regular bouts from a WFTDA-Recognized Tournament like The Big O.2 The entire event was broadcast on WFTDA.tv, for free, in 2015 as a part of the channel’s regular season broadcast schedule.
Comparing last year’s most-watched games to the audience the big ESPN3 doubleheader will attract later this month should give the WFTDA a better idea of just how big the ESPN effect is for the roller derby community…and if it’s big enough for both parties to potentially extend the partnership into 2017 and beyond.