ESPN's announcers will call six games remotely during the first two rounds of the women's NCAA Tournament.
The commentators will not be on site for the first- and second-round games hosted by Maryland and Mississippi State on Friday through Monday, the network confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday.
ESPN has been using remote productions more often in the last couple of seasons, as it has also been broadcasting more men's and women's college basketball games overall across its networks. Of a record 3,200 games during the regular season, more than 90 — about 3 percent — were called remotely, and they were generally lower-profile matchups.
This is the first time ESPN has done so for the tournament, when nearly 10 percent of the 63 games will be handled remotely. The 48 matchups in the first two rounds are televised regionally.
The NCAA's vice president of women's basketball championships, Anucha Browne, expressed support for ESPN's plan.
"The broadcast business is an expensive one. It costs a lot to move those trucks around. All broadcasters are looking for an opportunity to be more efficient on how they do the broadcast programs," Browne told The Associated Press. "This is a wave of the future for not just women's basketball, but broadcasts in general. No one believed that digital technology would replace film. Look where we are today."
There are 16 first- and second-round sites for the women compared with eight for the men. The women's tournament switched back to 16 from eight in 2009, and ESPN produced the broadcasts on location for the last seven seasons under the format.
Remote productions have long been used for international events, including for parts of the World Cup on ESPN and the Olympics on NBC. ESPN and other networks have been employing them more for domestic events in recent years as technology improved. The remote broadcasts save money from travel costs and production trucks.
Major League Soccer, WNBA, tennis and X Games are among the sports that ESPN has produced remotely, using facilities at its headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut; the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida; or its studios in Charlotte, North Carolina. Network executives have said that the savings allow them to invest in technological advancements. But this is the highest-profile U.S. event ESPN has done remotely.
"We have produced hundreds of events from various men's and women's sports using remotely integrating productions and it continues to be a seamless experience for fans," Tina Thornton, a senior vice president of production who oversees the women's tournament for ESPN, said in a statement. "The combination of the uniqueness of having 16 different sites and continued advances in technology provides us with an opportunity for the highest quality telecasts and allows us to devote even more resources to this elite, significant event for ESPN."
On Friday, announcers Melissa Lee and LaChina Robinson will be in Orlando when fourth-seeded Michigan State faces 13th-seeded Belmont and fifth-seeded Mississippi State plays 12th-seeded Chattanooga in Starkville, Mississippi. On Saturday, Roy Philpott and Brooke Weisbrod will be in Charlotte when second-seeded Maryland meets 15th-seeded Iona and seventh-seeded Washington takes on 10th-seeded Penn in College Park, Maryland.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz doesn't mind the idea. In December his game against Michigan State was done remotely.
"Watching it later, I couldn't tell they weren't there," he said. "I think it's brilliant. We don't make any money. If you can do it, and do it right, I'm all for it."
ESPN has been under financial pressure because of decreasing subscriber numbers as consumers switch to "skinny" bundles or drop pay TV altogether. The company cut about 300 jobs, or 4 percent of its staff, in October.