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Women’s Hoops Set to Break March Madness Viewership Marks

  • The women’s NCAA tournament tips off Friday afternoon.
  • TV ratings for women’s college basketball were up across the board this season.
USA TODAY

The March Madness action doubles Friday when the women’s NCAA tournament tips off, and a star-studded field led by Caitlin Clark and top-seeded Iowa looks to continue the wild momentum the sport has experienced over the past 12 months.

ESPN, the sole broadcaster of the women’s tournament, had its most-watched regular season of women’s college basketball on the network’s platforms since 2008–09, averaging 476,000 viewers across games on ESPN and ABC. That growth builds on several broken records during the ’23 tournament, including the most-viewed women’s college hoops telecast with 9.9 million viewers for LSU’s victory over Iowa in the final on ABC. In ’23, ESPN also had record viewership for the Final Four weekend as a whole, as well as Elite Eight and Sweet 16 action.

A New Leader?

With the hype around the women’s game still trending up, the possibility of the women’s final (which will be on ABC again) outdrawing the men’s is not that far-fetched. Last year, UConn–San Diego State drew 14.69 million viewers on CBS, the lowest number on record. This year, the men’s final will be broadcast on TBS, and, if it’s another lackluster matchup, the audience could be lower than a final of, say, Iowa against an undefeated South Carolina.

“I definitely think it could happen, and that’s not something I think anybody would have ever thought could happen prior to the last 12 months,” TV ratings expert Jon Lewis tells Front Office Sports. “I don’t think anyone would have ever thought any set of circumstances, any set of matchups would create a situation where the women’s final could outdraw the men.” Lewis, who operates the website Sports Media Watch, believes a close women’s final would have the potential for 13 million viewers, if not even more. “Just the fact that it’s in play is a huge change and a huge win for the women’s game,” he said of the women’s final outdrawing the men’s.

Spread the Love

Clark’s star power has helped plenty of other college sports stakeholders this season, too. The three million people that tuned in for Iowa’s victory in the Big Ten championship game gave CBS the most-watched women’s conference tournament game on any network. This season, Iowa also helped set new viewership marks for Fox and NBC, and the Hawkeyes were part of some frustration from fans about Clark’s games getting put on the paywalled Peacock. Meanwhile, research from TV outcomes company EDO shows that women’s college basketball games with Clark playing are 7% more effective for advertisers than games without the Iowa legend.

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