The ESPYS and ‘In The Arena’ Showcase Serena Williams on ESPN

Serena Williams can’t pinpoint the first time she watched ESPN… but she knows it’s always left a mark on her mind.

“I just remember that [jingle] ‘da-da-da, da-da-da.’ And that’s kind of seared in my memory,” Williams said. “It’s just something I’ve always watched. It’s just something that’s always been around.”

This week, Williams will appear on ESPN and ABC in new capacities from when she was regularly the focus of the SportsCenter Top 10 during her legendary tennis career.

On Wednesday, ESPN+ will air the first episode in its multipart series In The Arena: Serena Williams, which provides the most complete, intimate, and compelling account of her storied journey through tennis.

Then, at 8pm EDT on Thursday, Williams will host The ESPYS on ABC. During her storied tennis-playing years, Williams was awarded with 12 ESPYS.

“I’ve been always saying I want to host The ESPYS, I want to host, I want to host,” Williams noted. “And now I’m doing it and so now I’m just super excited for it.”

“She is one of the greatest athletes of all time,” Kate Jackson, Vice President of Production at ESPN, said. “Williams brings gravitas and star power to The 2024 ESPYS.”

As Jackson notes, “Women’s sports is having a moment of arrival right now.” That helps makes Williams — who Jackson points out “is one of the greatest athletes of all time” — “the perfect choice to host The ESPYS this year.”

“Her career has been marked by resilience, excellence, and a trailblazing spirit,” which, according to Jackson, when merged with “her strength and authenticity” on screen, forms “a deep connection with athletes and fans.”

For Williams, the awards ceremony offers a chance to broaden the public’s understanding of her. “The ESPYS provide Serena with a platform to showcase her multifaceted personality and influence beyond sports,” Jackson added.

The timing of The ESPYS and In The Arena’s premiere so close to one another “allows ESPN to celebrate her remarkable career in the big way she deserves,” Lindsay Rovegno, Executive Producer of In The Arena: Serena Williams and the Senior Director of Production for ESPN+ Originals, said. “If any athlete has earned that spotlight, it’s Serena.”

Because when it comes down to it, “Anytime you have the chance to tell the story of the greatest of all time, it’s a no-brainer,” Rovegno noted.

ESPN had unprecedented access because of Williams’ participation in the process. “Having Serena actively involved in the production allowed us to gain unprecedented access to her personal and professional life,” Rovegno said.

“It’s a life that transcends sports,” and the team at ESPN+ was “able to dive into the latter part of her journey in a way that no one has experienced before,” Rovegno added.

The series will of course cover her rise from her childhood in Compton to “the way she’s redefined tennis, business, motherhood, and so many other areas,” Rovegno said. But, it will also explore less public aspects of her life, such as meeting her husband, Alexis Ohanian, and “her near-death experience after giving birth, the reason she boycotted Indian Wells for 14 years.”

“It all comes to life in vivid, unforgettable ways through the emotion of her firsthand experience,” Rovegno said.

At ESPN, “our core mission is to evoke passion, intrigue, and excitement in our viewers,” Rovegno explained. “That means providing authentic, unique access and genuine insight into our characters and key events.”

At the heart of that is storytelling, which ESPN has a long and storied history in. “Athletes trust us to tell their stories with integrity and depth,” Rovegno mentioned. “Just as 30 for 30 has earned an unsurpassed reputation for powerful storytelling from a films standpoint, ESPN+ Originals is blazing a similar trail on the series side.”

Rovegno went on to note that ESPN+ Originals aims “for bold, innovative big swings with fresh perspective, which gives our stories the potential to crossover and capture audiences across entertainment and pop culture – and Serena’s story is a perfect example.”

While storytelling is in the bloodstream of ESPN, it goes even farther up to its parent company, The Walt Disney Company. “Our approach mirrors Disney’s mission of creating high-quality, emotionally resonant content that appeals to a broad audience,” Rovegno concluded.

And the same goes for live programming, like The ESPYS.

“Disney brings a unique set of strengths to The ESPYS, including unparalleled storytelling capabilities and a broad reach through various platforms, including ABC,” Jackson explained. “Disney’s commitment to high-quality, emotionally resonant content enhances the production value and audience engagement of The ESPYS.”

Jackson further added that “the synergy between ESPN and Disney allows us to create a comprehensive and captivating experience that goes beyond the awards show, integrating cross-platform storytelling and entertainment that only Disney can deliver.”