Apr 3, 2023 - Economy & Business

Women's NCAA final sets record with nearly 10M viewers

Alexis Morris #45 of the LSU Lady Tigers dribbles the ball against Kate Martin #20 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the fourth quarter during the 2023 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament championship game. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

The women's NCAA final between Louisiana State University and Iowa drew 9.9 million viewers on average across ABC and ESPN on Sunday, making it the most-watched women's college basketball game in history.

Why it matters: The game marked the first time the women's NCAA final aired live on ABC. The viewership success shows there's ample interest in women's sports, especially if they're given a bigger platform.

  • At its peak, the game was viewed by 12.6 million viewers, ESPN said.
  • The game also marked the most-viewed college event ever on ESPN+, ESPN's streaming service.

Be smart: The viewership numbers show that women's sports can compete with major sporting events from the major men's leagues.

  • The NBA Finals averaged 9.89 million viewers on ABC in 2021, Sportico notes.
  • Amazon's NFL broadcasts drew 9.58 million viewers per game on average during the 2022 season.

The big picture: U.S. women's sports, particularly soccer and basketball, are becoming a hot investment vehicle for networks.

Yes, but: Despite gains in viewership, women's sports have historically struggled to yield the same types of revenue in media broadcast rights as men's sports.

  • A 2021 report found that the NCAA has undervalued women's basketball by over $100 million.
  • ESPN currently pays the NCAA roughly $34 million for women's basketball rights, in conjunction with over two dozen other sports championships rights, as Axios has noted. That deal expires in the 2023-2024 season.

What to watch: The NCAA has hired Endeavor to advise on its next media rights deal, per Sports Business Journal.

Go deeper: NCAA women's March Madness breaks records

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