Women's March Madness sets record-breaking attendance and viewership
The GIST: Women’s March Madness delivered on and off the court. This year’s thrilling Final Four weekend cemented the tourney’s revenue-generating credentials with viewership and attendance highs but begs the question: Is the NCAA still just scratching the surface on women’s college basketball’s business potential?
The details: Friday’s semifinals averaged 4.5M viewers on ESPN’s platforms, a 66% increase YoY that also set ESPN+’s college hoops viewership record. Over 3.4M watched LSU win the first semi, up 57% from last year’s early game, while Iowa’s victory in the second semi earned 5.5M viewers, a 72% jump from 2022’s late game. Count it.
- More than 19K fans attended each Final Four game and the championship at Dallas’ American Airlines Center, helping to set a new tourney attendance record of 357K total IRL spectators.
The roadblocks: Even though championship tickets were pricier than tonight’s men’s final and last weekend’s TSwift concert, the NCAA may still be leaving money on the table. The women usually play in NBA arenas that can sell far fewer tickets compared to the NFL stadiums that host the men.
- Playing at separate venues also comes at a cost to brands. The NCAA requires all partners to sponsor men’s March Madness, so companies that also want to support the women’s edition are forced to split resources to activate at both.
- Some, like Big East commish Val Ackerman, suggest that sharing venues would allow spectators and sponsors to enjoy both events in full, while others believe individuality is women’s hoops’ biggest selling point. Better together…or not?
The opportunity: A hotly-anticipated new broadcast deal will allow the NCAA to score a huge payday from women’s March Madness, but this year has proven TV isn’t the only way to maximize tourney revenue. From ticket sales to brand activations, it also feels like IRL offerings are ripe for the taking. Time to cash in.