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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Clark, Hawkeyes Advance to Final Four: ESPN Wins Big, Too

  • Iowa defeated LSU on Monday night to reach a second straight Final Four.
  • Clark and the Hawkeyes have been the tournament’s biggest draw.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest star of the women’s NCAA tournament was able to survive the bracket’s toughest region, setting up a Final Four straight from Hollywood. On Monday night, No. 1 Iowa got revenge on No. 3 LSU, the team that beat them in last year’s national championship game. 

Now, the Caitlin Clark show continues. The NCAA men’s and women’s all-time scoring leader showed her must-see firepower once again Monday night with nine made three-point baskets—which tied a tournament record. Clark likely cemented her status as the presumed No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft (the Indiana Fever, who currently hold that top pick, may even have those No. 22 Clark jerseys ready to hit the shelves) and now has potentially two more games to showcase her stardom to basketball fans and potential brand partners alike. 

The NCAA and ESPN are also big winners, with Iowa’s strong ratings making the Hawkeyes a can’t-miss attraction this weekend. Clark is undeniably the major factor for much of the hype around the women’s tournament. The Hawkeyes have delivered the most-watched games of women’s March Madness reported thus far, including an audience of 4.9 million for their second-round victory over West Virginia, and 3.2 million viewers for the opening win over Holy Cross.

McCarthy: Tourney Dodged A Bullet

In what has been a banner year for women’s college basketball, that momentum continues with Clark and the Hawkeyes advancing. We asked Front Office Sports media expert Michael McCarthy what an early Iowa exit would have meant for the networks. 

“The loss of Clark and Iowa would likely have hurt Final Four viewership,” says McCarthy. “But with a ratings-maker like Paige Bueckers still in the tournament, the audience drop shouldn’t have been so bad given the sport’s momentum.” Now, March Madness viewers will still get to watch both Clark and Bueckers.

So, how long will the Clark train keep rolling? ESPN platforms had their most-watched regular season of women’s college basketball since 2008–09, and that was with Iowa playing all of its conference games on other networks. Now, the allure of Clark trying to end her collegiate career with a title has had experts predicting a potentially huge title-game viewership increase, over last year’s record 9.9 million, for one involving Iowa, which is now just one more victory away from that chance. The idea of the women’s final outdrawing the men’s has even become a more feasible scenario to some.

The women’s Final Four begins Friday in Cleveland, and ESPN executives, advertisers, and other stakeholders in the sport are likely grinning ear to ear at the thought of Clark and the Hawkeyes getting to Ohio.

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