Women's NCAA title game shatters viewership records, surpassing men's final and making history

For the first time, the women's NCAA's championship game not only drew more viewers than the men, but it also was the second most-watched non-Olympic women’s sporting event on U.S. television.

South Carolina’s 87-75 victory over Caitlin Clark and Iowa game averaged 18.9 million viewers on ABC and ESPN while UConn’s 75-60 victory over Purdue in Monday night’s men’s final on TBS and TNT averaged 14.82 million.

The audience for Sunday's game peaked at 24.1 million during the final 15 minutes. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan averaged 25.4 million on Fox. That was also on a Sunday and took place in prime time on the East Coast.

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"You’re seeing the growth in many places: attendance records, viewership and social media engagement surrounding March Madness," UCLA coach Cori Close said. "I don’t think you can attribute it just to Iowa, though. A rising tide does lifts all boats. But I think all those boats have been on many different waterways. The product is really good, and the increase of exposure is getting rewarded."


CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 7: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes dribbles the ball during the second half at the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament championship game between Iowa and South Carolina at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on April 7, 2024 i

The audience for the national title game was up 90% over last year when Clark and Iowa fell to LSU. That also was the first time since 1995 that the championship was on network television.

The audience was 289% bigger than the viewership for the Gamecocks’ title two years ago when they beat UConn on ESPN.

"I had not seen it much (women's basketball) before this year. I didn’t make it appointment television. This year, it was appointment television," said former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, who now runs his own sports television consulting company. "That's what happened when you see those numbers. There were a lot of people making notes to sit down and watch the games."

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During the Final Four, Clark said the audience growth was benefiting all of women’s sports, not just basketball.

"I think you see it across the board, whether it’s softball, whether it’s gymnastics, volleyball. People want to watch. It’s just when they’re given the opportunity, the research and the facts show that people love it," she said.

It also helped that the women’s game got increased exposure during the regular season on network television.

Fox carried 14 women’s games this season, including three in prime time, NBC two, and CBS had the Big Ten tournament championship. ABC had five regular-season games and nine during the NCAA Tournament.

Fox has announced the Women’s Champions Classic for next season on Dec. 7. The prime-time doubleheader will feature UConn, Iowa, Louisville and Tennessee.

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The championship game's return to network television has also benefited the women’s game. UConn’s victory over Tennessee in 1995 averaged 7.44 million on CBS. Despite ESPN’s work growing the tournament since it acquired the rights in 1996, the closest the network got to that number for the final was in 2002, when 5.68 million watched UConn beat Oklahoma.

"I think our game has been good for a long time and I think people have just missed the boat. Now we’ve finally had the exposure, and people have understood, ‘Wow, I haven’t watched women’s basketball for a long time, I’ve missed something.’ I don’t think they’re going to want to miss anymore," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said during the Final Four. "Caitlin has certainly been a tremendous star for our game, but there are so many stars in our game. So we’re just going to latch onto that next one next year."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.