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Athletes Unlimited Volleyball Expands ESPN Partnership

Following a spring exhibition tour, AU Volleyball will exclusively air live on ESPN channels and ESPN+ when their championship season returns in fall 2023.

Ahead of its third championship season, Athletes Unlimited Volleyball announced that they’ve come to a new media rights agreement with ESPN. The relationship is set to expand beginning in October 2023 when the women’s sports competition’s 30-match championship season will air live exclusively on ESPN’s television networks and its ESPN+ streaming service.

This marks an expansion of Athletes Unlimited’s relationship with ESPN, which already carries its softball and lacrosse competitions. ESPN’s coverage of AU Volleyball will also complement its coverage of NCAA Women’s volleyball at the same time of the year.

“As the only professional league in the United States, we’re excited to expand Athletes Unlimited Volleyball to give more people access to the highest level of the game,” said Cassidy Lichtman, Director of Sport for Athletes Unlimited Volleyball. “It’s amazing to see industry leaders like ESPN recognize the value of the sport and invest in its future.

In April, Athletes Unlimited and ESPN signed a two-year rights agreement for its softball and lacrosse leagues that saw 160 live women’s sports events broadcast across its linear and streaming platforms. At the time of the move, AU CEO and co-founder Jon Patricof emphasized how Athletes Unlimited is becoming a “major force” in the pro sports landscape and how ESPN continues its “commitment to women’s sports.”

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With the announcement comes news about a new volleyball exhibition tour that will be added to AU’s ever-expanding programming in the spring of 2023. The Athletes Unlimited Volleyball Exhibition Tour will feature a team of its top professional athletes traveling across the US to play a series of exhibition matches against top college programs while promoting the sport at a grassroots level and previewing the fall championship season.

“The Exhibition Tour is a great opportunity to reach the many volleyball fans across the country at the collegiate and youth levels and it will be really special for our athletes to go back to the places and programs that set them on the path to their professional careers,” Lichtman said.

The Exhibition Tour begins on March 23 and runs through April 21. It will feature a roster of top-15 professional players visiting eight college programs, including six of the top-15 schools in current volleyball rankings, with matches set to take their respective campuses.

Tour visits include the University of Louisville, Ohio State University, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, University of Texas, Baylor University, Howard University, and Penn State University, as well as the Windy City Qualifier in Chicago. 

The touring roster of athletes includes Ali Bastianelli, Amanda Benson, Kaz Brown, Taylor Bruns Tegenrot, Alisha Childress, Leah Edmond, Erin Fairs, Falyn Fonoimoana, Morgan Hentz, Sydney Hilley, Willow Johnson, Molly McCage, Deja McClendon, Taylor Reid, and Jenna Rosenthal. All told, the group includes one Olympian (Childress), five national champions, and eight All-Americans. 

Outside of the matches, Athletes Unlimited pros will visit local clubs, schools, and community events, and host clinics and other activities geared towards promoting the sport and building excitement about the AU Volleyball championship season in the fall. 

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