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Women’s March Madness Viewership Surges. Bigger Numbers Ahead?

  • Iowa–West Virginia drew 4.9 million viewers in the second round.
  • Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes are back in action Saturday afternoon.
Iowa City Press-Citizen

The women’s NCAA tournament is getting back underway with Sweet 16 action after record viewership in the second round—thanks in large part to Iowa and Caitlin Clark—and more new audience marks are almost certainly on the way.

Games involving No. 1 seeds South Carolina and Texas headline Friday’s broadcasts, which will face competition from the ongoing men’s tournament, but on Saturday two heavyweight matchups will get national spotlights all to themselves. ABC is carrying a doubleheader, beginning at 1 p.m. ET, of No. 3 LSU vs. No. 2 UCLA and No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 1 Iowa, which should play out before the men’s Elite Eight tips off shortly after 6 p.m.

Already, intrigue in Clark led to 4.9 million viewers tuning in to Iowa’s closer-than-expected win over West Virginia on Monday night, making that second-round game the most-watched women’s March Madness telecast outside of the Final Four. For comparison, that’s more than three times what Iowa’s second-round game drew last year: 1.46 million for a win over Georgia, at the time an early-round record for women’s March Madness. 

With that huge Iowa boost, round-of-32 games this year averaged a record 1.4 million viewers, up a staggering 121% from last year. All that came on top of 3.23 million people tuning in to Iowa’s 91–65 rout of outmatched 16-seed Holy Cross in the first round. Since advancing to the Sweet 16, Clark has been in the news all week, receiving an invite to Team USA’s Olympic camp, starring as the subject of a 96-page tribute magazine from ESPN, and even getting a $5 million offer to compete in the Big3 basketball league.

Dream Matchup

Ratings for this women’s NCAA tournament were expected to set records—as long as Iowa remains alive—and now last year’s record 9.9 million viewership number from the LSU-Iowa championship game might be broken, and certainly challenged, sooner rather than later. “The bar has been raised a bit from the performance of the first two rounds,” says TV ratings expert Jon Lewis, founder of Sports Media Watch, predicting up to 9 million viewers for a theoretical LSU-Iowa rematch in the Elite Eight, if they both win Saturday.

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