Setting new viewership and attendance records and at times outpacing the NBA, the best women’s hoopers in the land are another big step closer to getting their due.
All eyes were on Caitlin Clark.
The Iowa net-burner locked in Sunday night at March Madness, putting up a 42-point triple-double (!) against Louisville to put Iowa into the Final Four. The intense action set the tone for an exciting Elite Eight that boosted its fair share of storylines into the national spotlight.
If you want to judge all this through NCAA women’s basketball ratings, viewers ultimately tuned in to watch the matchup on ESPN in greater numbers than any NBA game the network has aired throughout the 2022-23 season to date.
2.7 million at its peak, to be exact.
The figure reflects a 43% bump over last year’s Elite Eight viewership and continues the steady rise in fanfare that the women’s NCAA Tournament has experienced on the Worldwide Leader in recent years.
While women’s sports still represent only 5% of all sports media coverage overall according to a 2021 study from the University of Southern California, its popular ascension is difficult to ignore.
This year’s Women’s NCAA Tournament has already set new viewership markers as we head into its final weekend. Overall, the 56 games in the books brought in an average of 660,000 viewers, 42% more than last year’s event. As the action gets deeper, fans are locked in. ESPN reports that the Sweet Sixteen netted an average of 1.2 million viewers and over 3.5 billion minutes, a 73% year-over-year boost. UConn-Ohio State set the standard in that round, yielding 2.4 million viewers.
Women’s basketball attendance is experiencing a similar uptick. The four regional finals of the tournament brought in a total of 82,275 fans, eclipsing the 20-year-old record of 73,954 from 2003.
And, reflecting a basic principle of economics — remember those??? — as the demand increases, so too does the price. Tickets heading into this weekend’s women’s Final Four matchups are running three times higher ($323) than those for the men’s games ($99), according to Ticketmaster.
Major companies are keen to cash in on the profit potential of the priority product, too. ESPN announced in the weeks leading into the Final Four that it had fully sold out its television ad inventory. Earlier this year, brands like Ally Bank unveiled a multi-year, multi-million-dollar pledge to boost equal opportunity within women’s sports and its position as the first-ever title sponsor for the ACC women’s tournament, and Under Armour invested in the opportunity to take up its own space and capitalize on the popularity of the women’s tournament.
The growth of the women’s game is not isolated to traditional media, either. Stars like Miami’s Haley and Hanna Cavinder and LSU’s Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson boast some of the biggest social media followings (and the NIL earning potential that comes with it) across all of college athletics regardless of sport.
As we head into the final weekend of the competition, all eyes are on South Carolina, Iowa, LSU, and Virginia Tech.
Will Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks be able to sustain their perfect season? Will the Hokies convert their first shot at the title?
Off the court, still-more questions percolate, including when top beauty brands give the players who serve as their best unofficial spokeswomen their proper due, or when the women’s tournament’s TV rights will finally be spun out as a standalone product rather than lumped in with several other NCAA championships.
The former will take longer to answer than the latter, but I’ll be among the millions locked in to find out.
Want More Women’s Sports?
The Portland Thorns and USWNT star sat down with Boardroom to reflect on a year filled with ups and downs, discuss the future of women’s sports, and much more. …
When the two powerhouse programs face off in Paris on Monday, they’ll arrive in style with custom collaborative luxury tracksuits. …