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Scripps rebranding Ion around live sports, events

The push is part of a pitch to advertisers during the Upfronts season, and seeks to leverage higher interest in women's professional basketball and soccer.

The push is part of a pitch to advertisers during the Upfronts season, and seeks to leverage higher interest in women's professional basketball and soccer.

A close-up image of a basketball.
(Stock image)

The E. W. Scripps Company is refreshing the brand identity of its television network Ion to reflect its carriage of live sports and events, executives confirmed this week.

The change comes as Scripps has worked to incorporate more live events into Ion’s annual schedule, to include professional women’s basketball and soccer, and as the company offers a greater focus on its budding Scripps Sports brand that launched in late 2022.

The refreshed identity for Ion will extend to its two companion networks — broadcast outlet Ion Mystery and free, ad-supported streaming channel Ion Plus — with the total package taking center stage at Scripps’ Upfronts presentation this spring.

In an interview with the trade publication Cablefax, a Scripps executive said the new brand identity was a reflection of an uptick in interest from the advertising community “about the need to support women’s sports — that it’s good business for them, and we’re seeing that with inbound interest.”

“When we go out into the marketplace and present our offering, it is very much a leaned-in conversation where agency partners and brands are leaning into supporting this,” Brian Norris, the Chief Revenue Officer at Scripps, said during the interview.

Norris characterized the momentum around watching women’s sports on television as “a movement, and it’s sustainable.” There is some recent evidence to back this up: The storyline involving Iowa Hawkeyes basketball player Caitlin Clark helped drive millions of viewers to ABC and ESPN during the NCAA March Madness Women’s Basketball Tournament over the past few weeks.

Clark and the Hawkeyes fell to the South Carolina Gamecocks during a thrilling tournament final over the weekend, which drew nearly 19 million viewers — a record high for a women’s college basketball game. By comparison, the final game played during the men’s March Madness tournament grabbed just shy of 15 million viewers.

While that was primarily driven by interest in Clark’s talent and rivalries with other players, the uptick in ratings doesn’t appear to be an anomaly: Viewership data reported by Nielsen and viewed by The Desk showed more growth in the audience of the women’s college basketball tournament when compared to the men’s college basketball tournament over the past decade.

A decision to move the women’s college basketball final from ESPN to ABC two years ago may have helped accelerate that growth: Before the move, the final averaged around 5 million viewers, but shot up to 10 million viewers during the first ABC televised final last year. This year’s final was also televised by ABC.

By comparison, the men’s college basketball tournament saw a 25 percent drop in viewership over the past decade, with this year’s final airing on cable channel TBS. The tournament alternates between the Warner Bros Discovery-owned channel, which is part of TNT Sports, and Paramount Global’s CBS network. The CBS telecasts generally earn higher ratings than the TBS broadcasts, according to Nielsen.

The reach of broadcast is good news for a company like Scripps as it seeks to put more sports on its broadcast network and local TV stations. Scripps stands to benefit from the hype surrounding Clark — she is expected to be the top pick at the upcoming WNBA draft (which airs on ESPN). Clark is likely headed for the Indiana Fever; eight games from the Fever will air on Ion next season.

“We think that Caitlin Clark is going to do great things for the WNBA on Ion, but we also know that the fans that love the WNBA will continue to watch and support the WNBA,” Norris told Cablefax.

Scripps will also continue to showcase its national spelling bee tournament through Ion, Norris said.

When the network isn’t airing live events, it will fall back on a schedule of police procedural re-runs, with marathons of shows like “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Bull” and “Hawaii Five-O.”

Ion is offered as a free over-the-air digital broadcast network throughout most of the country. The channel also distributes a national programming feed that is offered by Comcast’s Xfinity TV, Dish Network, DirecTV, Charter’s Spectrum TV, YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV, and a free streaming channel that contains most Ion programming is available on Amazon’s Freevee, Plex, Pluto TV, Samsung TV Plus, Fox Corporation’s Tubi, Xumo Play and other providers.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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