FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) When it first launched in 2014, the then-fledgling SEC Network required resources to showcase their vibrant talents.
And a new song titled "Friday Night Heights" sparked interest among athletes and visitors. It seemed like a win-win for a sport that has historically struggled to attract public interest outside the Olympics. D-D Breaux, a longtime LSU coach, was among the skeptics.
Kathy Johnson Clarke, a two-time Olympic medalist and commentator for ESPN, said: "She was afraid we would ruin college gymnastics."
Unless people could watch the meetings on television, they would not come to the arena to support the Tigers. It wasn't until Breaux caught one of the broadcasts funny 90-minute affairs that sparked all of the emotion of a football game into half the time that she discovered she was on the wrong side of history.
The opposite of what she was concerned about happened, Johnson Clarke said. They started packing the arena and selling out crowds. We increased their exposure. It was an exponential moment in the arm for these programs.
The sport, too, is transforming college gymnastics into more professional athletes. The number of Level 10 gymnasts competing in 2013 scouted 1,600, despite the fact that the axiom "if you can see it, you can be it" was more popular in the industry.
It made college programs look like a lot of fun and a great opportunity, said Long Island University coach Randy Lane.
Gymnastics is now featured on numerous athletic-conference related networks (Big Ten, ACC, and SEC), according to the viewership. ESPN properties alone this season.
The NCAA championship featuring Florida, Oklahoma, Utah, and Auburn will air on ABC on Saturday. A year ago, Sunisa Lee was crowned champion of Auburn, and programs with large alumni bases, like the Gators and Sooners involved. There is a chance viewership to reach seven figures.
Despite the fact that the coverage isn't limited to linear TV. Dickie's Arena has commissioned 82 highly qualified staffers for the semifinals and finals, with a streaming broadcast that will allow fans to avoid missing a routine.
The success of 'Gymnastics' has always been remarkable, and the last few years it's been remarkable, said ESPN's senior director of programming and acquisitions. The Olympics and people staying in college and people are helping the sport grow. It's been a fantastic partnership for us.
A network that evolved with a few tweaks along the way. At the suggestion of producer Meg Aronowitz, the network adopted a running score chryon in the bottom of the screen, like what you will find during a football or basketball game, giving viewers immediate feedback on where things stand at any given moment.
Instead of wasteing time planning a meeting, the action starts almost immediately. Routines begin less than a minute into the broadcast and it closes up an hour and a half later with little filler in between.
"It's like 'Wheel of Fortune,' and you'll know what you're going to get," said Bart Conner, a two-time Olympic medalist and commentator. "If it starts at 7, at 7:01, we're going, and the last vault is 8:28 and 30 seconds. Then it's a winner, and we're out."
Now, television in gymnastics has evolved into what it once was for high-profile football programs: a microphone that coaches can use on living room couches across the country.
"I'm certain that because of things like the SEC Network, it's one of the things that ate me (to Arkansas," said the Olympic gold medalist and Razorbacks coach. Jordyn Wieber, "And I think it attracts a lot of recruits. Their parents have to watch them if they can't make the meet."
The idea of knowing they'll be on television has an appeal all its own. When Oklahoma junior Ragan Smith caught "Friday Night Heights," the 2017 US gymnastics national champion saw a sense of accomplishment she didn't knew.
Smith said: "It just looked really nice." In college, she said, "Incredibly everyone is enjoying themselves."
Networks have made it a good idea to try and gain that energizing. Cut to, ones that are now far more than they used to be. Enjoy the moment Lee and the rest of the Tigers passing around t after nailing a dismount. Find the teammates mimicking each other's floor routine as a sign of solidarity.
The athletes aren't seeing the camera as obscenity, but it's just about anything.
Johnson Clarke said she's been watching these programs since then. They talk to each other. They see each other, and she knows others.
As ratings and interest continue to rise, more and more people are expected to be on the market.
College gymnastics is not an emerging sport, Margulis said. Its arrived..
Will Graves, The Associated Press, and Will Graves