Women’s Basketball Championship Outdraws Men’s

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley raises the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship trophy during a celebration at the Colonial Life Arena on April 8, 2024 in Columbia, South Carolina. | Image by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Women’s college basketball is continuing to grow in popularity nationwide, and there was no more apparent evidence than Sunday’s national championship game between South Carolina and Iowa.

Some 18.9 million people tuned in to see the Gamecocks hold off the Hawkeyes and Caitlin Clark in a rematch of last year’s national semifinal to finish an undefeated season and win their second title in the last three seasons, with 24.1 million watching the final 15 minutes of action from around 4 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. CT.

Iowa upset a heavily favored and undefeated South Carolina team at the Women’s Final Four in Dallas last season, adding even more intrigue to Sunday’s game, particularly following the string of rematches and high-profile opponents Iowa endured on its way to the championship game and the extended publicity Clark has received due to her play on the court.

However, there appears to be more to it than that.

“You’re seeing the growth in many places: attendance records, viewership, and social media engagement surrounding March Madness,” UCLA coach Cori Close told the Associated Press. “I don’t think you can attribute it just to Iowa, though. A rising tide does lift 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.”

The numbers from Sunday’s game made it the most-watched women’s college basketball game in history and the most-watched basketball game overall since 2019, nearly doubling the previous record and easily besting the audience for the men’s national championship game between UConn and Purdue on Monday night, which averaged about 14.8 million viewers and also saw a repeat champion as UConn came away with another win by at least 13 points, extending an NCAA Tournament record.

“The remarkable viewership throughout this women’s basketball season is a testament to the incredible performances of the student-athletes on the court,” Nick Dawson, ESPN senior vice president of programming and acquisitions, said in a press release. “The game has never been more competitive or filled with more great teams, stars, and storylines. The record numbers also reflect the successful collaboration between the NCAA and ESPN and our shared commitment to continue to grow women’s basketball.”

The increased awareness and skill of the women’s game has clearly pushed it to new heights, and it could just be the beginning if networks continue to commit.

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