Women’s College Basketball Is on the Rise, and the Numbers Prove It

Women’s college basketball continues to set records in all kinds of ways. Monday’s long-awaited rematch in the Elite 8 between the reigning national champion LSU Tigers and runner-up Iowa Hawkeyes drew an average of 12.3 million viewers, making it the most watched men’s or women’s college basketball game in the history of ESPN, the network announced. 

The record viewership was more than every NHL, MLB, and MLS game last season, and more than all but one NBA and college football regular season game, per Front Office Sports.

The continuity in women’s college basketball has built a sustained following for stars in the game. The trend of one-and-done players does not exist as it does for the men’s game, as players have to be 22 years old before declaring for the WNBA Draft. Fans are eager to see the stars of the game take a team to new levels, and the current group of players have done just that.

“You are able to build a real iconic legacy at a program… That’s what makes the Final Four and Elite Eight so great,” Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James said in a post-game interview. “The star power that we have in the women’s game outweighs some of the men.”

TV Viewership Soars to New Heights

The record-breaking 12.3 million viewers came after the 2023 Women’s March Madness Final between Caitlin Clark’s Iowa and Angel Reese’s LSU had 9.9 million viewers, which was, at the time, the most watched game in the sport’s history.

The 2023 matchup drew more than double the 4.85 million viewers that South Carolina and UConn garnered for the 2022 championship game and the highest since the 2004 women’s championship.

Both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight of this year’s women’s tournament broke tournament records as well. The Sweet 16 games averaged 2.4 million viewers, while the matchup between Iowa and Colorado led the way at 6.9 million. The Elite Eight averaged 6.2 million viewers across its games with the aforementioned Iowa-LSU rematch topping the charts.

As Clark and the Hawkeyes make their way back to the Final Four, the buzz for the future No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft has taken the internet by storm. Clark was searched on Google over 2.7 million times over the last 30 days, including 165,000 in Iowa, according to Betway’s social media analysis. She gained over 189,000 Instagram followers in that same time frame.

The growing interest in women’s college basketball is evident. TV viewership continues to trend upwards for the women’s game, but it goes beyond that. Name, image, and likeness deals, attendance, and tournament ticket prices all soared to new levels this season.

Iowa Hawkeyes forward AJ Ediger (34) shoots against LSU Lady Tigers forward Angel Reese (10) in the second quarter in the finals of the Albany Regional. Photo courtesy: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports via Imagn.

NIL Deals

As women’s college basketball continues to grow, so do the NIL deals for its players. The college athletes in the sport have received 60% more deals year over year and are outpacing the men’s college players, according to SponsorUnited’s 2nd annual NIL Marketing Partnerships Report. Apparel, quick service restaurants, and technology are the most active sectors in the space.

Clark’s $3.2 million NIL valuation ranks 4th among all college athletes while Angel Reese’s $1.8M puts her at 8th in the country, according to On3 NIL valuations. USC’s record-setting freshman JuJu Watkins and Reese’s LSU teammate Flau’jae Johnson have made waves in the space as well. Watkins added deals from Spotify, Instagram, and Estee Lauder as the Women’s March Madness tournament kicked off. Johnson has a $1.2M valuation that includes deals from Puma, Powerade, Amazon, and many more.

Basketball brands are taking notice of budding stars set to break out soon. Stephen Curry’s Curry Brand signed its first collegiate athlete to a multi-year partnership with South Carolina star freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley. SEC Freshman of the Year Mikaylah Williams joined the Jordan Brand as a part of a small roster that includes amateur and WNBA players. 

Attendance

The Women’s Big Ten basketball tournament sold out for the first time, and tickets were gone two weeks before the first game was set to tip off. More than 109,000 fans attended the tournament at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The Women’s SEC Basketball Tournament saw all-time attendance records, as well. 13,163 fans attended the championship game with a total of 64,905 fans throughout the whole tournament in Greenville, South Carolina.

Iowa’s 2023-2024 season opener was the first women’s college basketball game to be played at an outdoor football stadium. 55,646 fans packed into Kinnick Stadium to watch Iowa face DePaul and set the NCAA attendance record for a women’s college basketball game.

UConn Huskies forward Aaliyah Edwards (3) takes a selfie with basketball fans after a game against the USC Trojans in the finals of the Portland Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Photo courtesy: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports via Imagn.

Ticket Prices

The demand for tickets for both the men’s and women’s tournaments is at all-time highs. The Women’s Final Four sales outpace last year’s record-breaking tournament by 80% and will soon pass the total, according to data from StubHub. 

The average price for a Women’s Final Four ticket has doubled from last year as a semifinal ticket is $330 while the championship costs $370. The Women’s Final Four venue holds just under 20,000 while the men’s holds over 63,000, but it is a hot commodity that many are eager to see.

Clark continues to be a massive draw for her home fans as StubHub ticket purchases from Iowa surpassed all of North Carolina, Connecticut, and South Carolina combined. 

“The attention March Madness is receiving this year is unprecedented,” said Adam Budelli, a spokesperson for StubHub. “Early ticket sales indicate that this tournament will break records – we’re confidently predicting it will attract more sales on StubHub than any past women’s or men’s tournaments. Last year marked a turning point for the women’s tournament, and the excitement of watching Caitlin Clark on the court once again has driven an 80% increase in ticket sales – women’s basketball is a truly can’t-miss event.”

Looking ahead

Clark’s Hawkeyes are set to face a UConn team led by Paige Bueckers, who has returned to top form after her ACL injury. Kamilla Cardoso and the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks are heading into a matchup against NC State, a team that is making its first Final Four appearance since 1989.

While stars like Clark and Reese are set to join the WNBA, they left women’s college basketball in a better place than it was when they arrived. Fierce rivalries, scoring records, and star power across the country have lit a new fire in the women’s game that has captured the attention of many.

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