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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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‘Absurd’ Caitlin Clark Draws Absurd TV Numbers for Iowa-LSU

  • Monday’s Elite Eight matchup blew by the ratings record set in last year’s women’s final.
  • It was also ESPN’s most-watched college hoops game ever, men’s or women’s.
The Des Moines Register

ESPN’s Elle Duncan called Caitlin Clark’s skill set “absurd” Monday night. So too, it seems, is Clark’s ability to supercharge TV audiences. 

With Clark avenging last year’s championship-game loss, the ESPN telecast of Iowa’s 94–87 win over LSU averaged a staggering 12.3 million viewers Monday night. That made it the most-watched women’s college basketball game on record, far surpassing the previous mark: 9.9 million viewers for the Tigers’ title win last April. It was also the most-watched college hoops game ever, men’s or women’s, on ESPN platforms.

The fact that this happened in an Elite Eight regional indicates that Clark is drawing both hard-core sports fans and casual TV viewers eager to find out what the fuss is all about. And it’s particularly impressive given the slow death of the cable TV bundle. ESPN’s distribution has fallen to 71 million U.S. households, from a broadcast-network-like high of 100 million in 2012.

ESPN’s upcoming Final Four telecast of Iowa versus Connecticut won’t match the pregame drama of the Iowa-LSU rematch. But UConn has its own ratings draw in Paige Bueckers, plus the lineage of the winningest women’s college basketball program ever, with 11 national titles. With Clark being the biggest story in sports, TV ratings expert Douglas Pucci tells me he predicts Iowa-UConn to post another record, even with a 9:30 p.m. ET tip time. 

If Clark advances, a dream title game matchup between Iowa and unbeaten South Carolina would pull more than 16 million viewers, Pucci predicts, perhaps even outdrawing the men’s championship. On the other hand, an Iowa–NC State title game, he thinks, would draw roughly 13 million. That would still be a women’s record, but probably not enough to top this year’s men’s title game. (And if Clark and Iowa are knocked out in the Final Four? He predicts the women’s championship-game viewership would plummet to 6.5 million viewers.)

For context: UConn’s blowout win over San Diego State in the men’s title game last year averaged 14.69 million viewers on CBS. Notably, though, the men’s national championship April 8 will be shown on cable TV, across TBS, TNT, and truTV. The most ratings-friendly men’s championship matchup would appear to be blueblood UConn vs. NC State. Led by DJ Burns, the Wolfpack’s upset of the Blue Devils on Easter Sunday drew 15.1 million viewers, the best number for a men’s Elite Eight game in five years.

Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will, too.

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