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Women’s Basketball Conference Tourneys Set Attendance, TV Marks

  • All five power conferences saw new highs in eyeballs and ticket sales.
  • Caitlin Clark and Iowa’s Big Ten title win Sunday was CBS’s most-watched women’s basketball game in 25 years.
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend’s women’s conference tournaments provided some of the most entertaining basketball on television—and fans matched the excitement with soaring attendance and viewership numbers. The Big Ten title game set a new record for a women’s basketball broadcast on CBS, while the SEC, Pac-12, and ACC all produced their most-watched championships ever on ESPN platforms. A breakdown:

The Big Ten tournament sold out for the first time … two weeks before the first tip. In the championship game, Caitlin Clark’s Iowa faced Nebraska in the Cornhuskers’ fourth game in four days and secured a three-peat with an overtime thriller.

  • Attendance: Approximately 109,000 total fans witnessed the sold-out tournament. (A Big Ten rep tells Front Office Sports the conference does not break down attendance by session.)
  • Viewership: The title game averaged more than 3 million viewers on CBS, with 4.45 million tuning in for OT. That made it the most-watched women’s conference tournament game of all time. CBS Sports says the matchup was also the network’s most-watched women’s college basketball game since Tennessee-UConn in 1999, and it was the most-watched basketball game on any network last Sunday. Another record: Iowa’s two games leading up to the championship were the Big Ten Network’s second- and third-most-watched basketball broadcasts ever.

The SEC tournament final between South Carolina and reigning champion LSU included a fight that will keep Gamecocks starting center Kamilla Cardoso out of the first game of the NCAA tournament. Dawn Staley’s team remained undefeated as South Carolina took home its second straight tourney title.

  • Attendance: According to the SEC, 13,163 fans attended the championship game, with 64,905 for the entire tournament in Greenville, S.C. Each of those figures set new all-time records for the SEC women’s basketball tournament.
  • Viewership: An average of 2 million viewers watched the championship game on ESPN, up 126% from last year.

The Pac-12 tournament showcased a disintegrating conference that still had six teams in Monday’s AP Top 25 poll. Decades ago, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer responded to a letter from Lindsay Gottlieb, telling her to stick with coaching; on Sunday, Gottlieb’s USC beat Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, despite freshman star JuJu Watkins being held to just nine points.

  • Attendance: The Pac-12 saw its second-highest total tournament attendance ever with 29,288 fans, according to the conference. The championship game drew 5,525, the third-highest turnout for a Pac-12 title matchup.
  • Viewership: An average of 1.4 million viewers tuned into the championship game on ESPN, an increase of 462% from last year.

And the ACC tournament ended with Notre Dame beating NC State 55–51 in the championship game. It was the first ACC tournament title as head coach for Niele Ivey, who played for Notre Dame in college and worked more than a decade under Muffet McGraw.

  • Attendance: The ACC announced Friday that it was the first conference ever to reach 1.5 million total attendees for a women’s basketball tournament. The championship game hosted 9,102 fans this year, versus 6,802 last year.
  • Viewership: The championship game averaged 679,000 viewers, a 42% increase from last season. Like those for the SEC and the Pac-12 championships, the game was the most-viewed ACC championship ever for ESPN.

The Big 12 tournament Saturday had its best attendance for an individual session of the women’s tournament since 2013. Texas was set to face Iowa State in the tournament title game Tuesday night.

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