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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Caitlin Clark’s Final Four Debut Could Smash TV Records

  • Iowa vs. South Carolina poised to set a new record for women’s semifinal.
  • But can Clark beat Diana Taurasi for the most-watched women's college game of all-time?
Caitlyn Clark's popularity could mean massive TV ratings.
Syndication: HawkCentral

The showdown between Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston of South Carolina in tonight’s Final Four game could set a record for the most-watched semifinal in NCAA women’s college basketball history. 

But the duel between Clark’s Hawkeyes and Boston’s defending champion Gamecocks probably won’t be enough to set a record for the most-watched women’s college basketball game ever. 

That’s the word from two TV sports experts who’ve followed the twists and turns of March Madness TV ratings for decades.

Leslie Anne Wade, a media advisor and marketing agent, predicts Iowa-SC will generate between 4 million to 5 million viewers in prime time on ESPN (9 p.m. ET).

Although viewer data only goes back to 2007, that would top the 3.76 million viewers for the Baylor vs. Stanford Final Four matchup in 2012. Baylor’s undefeated Lady Bears went on to win the NCAA championship.

“Caitlin is the real deal – and that is a bonus for the Final Four,” said Wade, who worked multiple NCAA tournaments as the head of communications at CBS Sports.

But even if tonight’s semifinal cracks 5 million viewers, it would not be enough to break the record for the most-watched women’s basketball game.

That’s held by Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, and their Connecticut team, which drew 5.7 million viewers for their victory over Oklahoma in the 2002 women’s national final. Two years later, Taurasi’s Huskies nearly topped their record, drawing 5.6 million viewers for their win over Tennessee in the women’s final.

South Carolina Gamecocks forward Aliyah Boston, left, guard Zia Cooke, middle, and head coach Dawn Staley speak before the NCAA Womens Final Four

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Douglas Pucci, a sports TV ratings expert for Programming Insider, predicts four million-plus viewers for Iowa vs. SC.

“You have this big powerhouse in South Carolina. You have Caitlin Clark. You’ve got the Midwest and Big Ten (audiences) invested,” he said. “Whoever wins, it will provide great momentum for Sunday’s (national women’s final). Plus, Sunday will be on a broadcast network (ABC). So that’s a huge positive for the women’s game.”

Pucci thinks tonight’s viewership could be bigger than the national women’s final Sunday on ABC (3:30 pm ET).

The sharp-shooting Clark has become Must-See TV in recent weeks.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith previously called her the “Steph Curry of women’s basketball.”

“I love watching her. She’s one of the greatest attractions in college basketball. She can pull up from the parking lot,” said Smith.

Speaking of Taurasi and Bird, they’ll co-host an alternate telecast of the women’s Final Four on ESPN2 and the ESPN+ streaming platform.

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