The NCAA Women's College Basketball Championship is expected to set new viewership records in 2024

The NCAA Women's Basketball National Championship is set to break viewership records as star players and heavy TV coverage draw more fans to the game than ever before.

Iowa vs. South Carolina, Sunday at 3 p.m. at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, No. 1 will be chips.

Friday night's matchup between Iowa and No. 3 seed UConn was the most-watched women's college basketball game ever, breaking ESPN's record for the most-watched basketball game in college or pro network history with 14.2 million viewers. 17 million.

According to Richard DeitchA sportswriter at The Athletic, that's more than any World Series game last year, any NBA Finals last year and every Daytona 500 since 2013.

On Saturday, TickPick said the “get-in” price for Sunday's women's final was $555 – a record.

Ratings for Friday night's women's semifinal games between Iowa UConn and South Carolina over top NC State were not available as of Saturday afternoon.

The surge in interest in women's sports is the product of two key events, experts say: an influx of new stars, including a once-in-a-generation player; As the networks have invested heavily in broadcasting the games, the coverage those players now receive is increasing.

At the top of the star wave is University of Iowa guard Kaitlin Clark, who not only broke the record for most goals in a women's game, but surpassed Pete Maravich earlier this year. . This is a record that has stood for 54 years.

Clark has been a standout since arriving at Iowa four years ago, leading the Hawkeyes to the Sweet 16 as a freshman while being unanimously named the Big 10 Freshman of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten.

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She has won the NCAA's Most Valuable Player award for the past two years.

At the end of this season, Clark, 22, will leave for the WNBA.

Still other stars are primed to continue the momentum for women's sports, said Ben Portnoy, who covers college sports for the Sports Business Journal. While legendary women's coaches like Tennessee's Pat Summitt and UConn's Geno Auriemma, who died in 2016, were the biggest names in the game, increased — and consistent — media coverage led to more players being in the spotlight.

For the 2021 season, ESPN and ABC switched to a national broadcast format for the women's tournament, while the men's tournament was televised.

“Broadcast, on-air coverage was lacking,” said John Lewis, who runs Sports Media Watch, a website that monitors athletics coverage.

He said ESPN simply took a calculated gamble that there was enough demand for women's sports on regional broadcasts or on secondary networks like ESPN 2.

“ESPN is a business — there's no charity here,” Lewis said. “If they see the women's Final Four getting traction on ESPN 2, they start to wonder how many more people can get on ESPN.”

The increased coverage coincides with a key difference that now separates men's and women's sports: professional eligibility rules — which allow women's sports to produce more stars than men's teams.

While girls can't go until age 22, the age limit is 19 for only one year of college for boys.

“Top stars don't stick in men's sports like they do in women's sports,” Portnoy said. “The women's game benefits from that.”

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Among the new crop to dominate next season's women's game: University of Southern California's Juju Watkins, Villanova's Lucy Olsen and Notre Dame's Hannah Hidalgo.

Portnoy said the men's players may be less household names in the sport than the women's as a result of playing earlier. That's reflected in some women's sports getting higher ratings this year than men's sports.

But while the men's game also suffers from a lack of stars, there's less structural need for them to get eyeballs, Lewis said. Instead, the absence of some traditionally male-dominated powerhouses like Duke or Kentucky that advanced to the finals has slowed ratings growth this year.

The women's game is more star-driven, Lewis said.

He said the end of Clark's superstar collegiate career would prove to be a high watermark for this year's women's tournament audience. At the same time, a new audience base has been established — and the networks have learned that the audience for women's sports is huge.

“I don't see us going back to an era where we averaged less than 3 million viewers — between the growth that happened before Caitlin Clark and the growth of Caitlin Clark,” Lewis said. “So this competition has a new permanent high barrier.”

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