March Madness continues to breaks records off the court
The GIST: The No. 1 seeds, South Carolina and Virginia Tech, prevailed on Monday night, setting the stage for Friday’s Final Four. While your neighbors have a three-day break from hearing you
coach shout at the TV (just us?), let’s dive into the tourney’s off-court impact.
The eyes: As Coach Staley said above, the game is growing like never before. These women have been shattering records and glass ceilings since the tourney tipped off two weeks ago, from record attendance in the first two rounds to sold-out ad inventory on ESPN. But the strides in TV viewership have been especially massive.
- With 1.2 million average views per game, the Sweet 16 notched a 73% viewership increase from last year, and Sunday’s Elite Eight matchup between No. 2 Iowa and No. 5 Louisville drew almost 2.5 million pairs of eyes — more than any NBA game on ESPN all season. Mic. Drop.
- And they’re not done yet. Friday’s games, especially the battle between No. 1 South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and No. 2 Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, are expected to break even more records. Preemptive chills.
The transfers: Another seismic tourney-related shift? The transfer portal. As Louisville HC Jeff Walz says, “You’ve got Selection Sunday and Portal Monday,” meaning the bracket release triggers the portal’s opening: Nearly 300 players have already entered this year, with more expected to join soon.
- The tourney showcased talented players from mid-major programs eyeing a Power Five step-up, but it can also frustrate players whose programs don’t meet expectations (we see you, Caleb Love).
- Critics of the more lax portal rules feared they would only help the richest and most successful programs, but the shifts seem to create negligible or even beneficial effects thus far — after all, parity is at an all-time high in the men’s and women’s games.