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ESPN's increased coverage of 2014 NCAAs leads to higher viewership

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ESPN's bigger-than-ever coverage of the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships has resulted in greater-than-ever viewership, the sports network announced Thursday.

This year's expanded coverage -- including first-time live telecasts of all six sessions, "every mat, every match" coverage on ESPN3, as well as the debut of "Inside the Mat" program that provided a behind-the-scenes perspective on the finals -- generated significant audiences on ESPN Networks' television and digital platforms. In fact, the four telecasts on ESPNU and two on ESPN (Thursday, March 20 to Saturday, March 22) combined to reach 8.6 million people, a 39% increase over last year (8.6 million vs. 6.2 million). The 20 hours of television coverage averaged 253,000 viewers per hour.

What are the nation's hotspots for watching ESPN's coverage of the 2014 NCAAs? Oklahoma’s Tulsa and Oklahoma City were the two highest-rated metered markets, respectively, for ESPN’s combined semifinal and final telecasts. Minneapolis was third followed by Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Greensboro, Jacksonville, Nashville, Philadelphia, and Greenville.

A brief history of NCAA TV coverage

ESPN began covering the NCAA Wrestling Division I Championships in 1980. Live telecasts of the championship finals began in 2004 and preliminary round telecasts began in 2005. Since 2011, ESPN has provided live coverage of all six sessions on ESPN3.

The first televised coverage of the NCAAs was back in 1963, when ABC-TV's "Wide World of Sports" provided tape-delayed, highly-edited version of the 1963 NCAA finals from Kent State University in Ohio.

In the 1980s, CBS became the home of NCAA wrestling championships coverage, as part of a deal to televise multiple college sports championships in addition to basketball. The typical CBS NCAA broadcast managed to show all the finals matches (instead of just a sampling as ABC had done), but, again, in very edited form (sometimes showing only a few seconds of some title bouts), and, again, two or three weeks after the event.

When ESPN first took over NCAA wrestling coverage, it wasn’t much of an improvement over what its broadcast predecessors had offered. There were criticisms of inept commentary and matches joined in progress, not to mention broadcast times in the middle of the night (though only a day or two after the matches had been wrestled).

A real turning point could be traced to the 2002 NCAAs, when ESPN interrupted regular programming to provide live coverage of the 197-pound title match as Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson went for his fourth title and a perfect 159-0 collegiate record. In the dozen years since, ESPN has considerably expanded its offerings on TV and online to provide fans with more real-time coverage.

Enjoy the ESPN's coverage of the 2014 NCAAs? Let the network know.

Take a look back: For all College Wrestling Examiner articles on the 2014 NCAAs, click here... and check out Mat Bracketology, College Wrestling Examiner's weight-by-weight analysis of seeded wrestlers, by clicking on the Mat Bracketology link.

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