No matter how you felt about the officiating or trash-talking that occurred on April 2 in Dallas, the Women’s NCAA Tournament attracted more eyes and bodies than ever before this year.
In the second year that the women’s tournament has been permitted to use the March Madness trademark, the first two rounds tallied a total attendance of 231,777 fans, topping last year’s total of 216,890. In its third year on national television, the women’s tournament absolutely CRUSHED previous viewership records.
Sunday night’s championship between Iowa and LSU elicited an average of 9.9 million viewers, peaking at 12.6 million viewers. Here are a couple of stats to give an idea of how that stacks up against other major sporting events:
The NCAA Women's National Championship's 9.9 million viewers are more than:— Front Office Sports (@FOS) April 4, 2023
▪️ Any Women's CBB game ever
▪️ Any MLS game ever
▪️ Any Stanley Cup game since 1973
▪️ The 2023 Orange Bowl
▪️ The 2023 Sugar Bowl
▪️ 2023 Thursday Night Football
▪️ The 2021 NBA Finals
▪️ The 2020… pic.twitter.com/X6MGXYkflQ
The game was trending on Twitter and has continued to over the better part of a week. Rappers, athletes, and even regular people all took to the internet to express their frustration with the refs, argue about sportsmanship, and make a couple jokes.
Most watched Women’s College Basketball Game Ever. 9.9 Million Viewers and everyone had a hand in it. pic.twitter.com/nguKxiKL9G— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) April 3, 2023
This is awkward: the NCAA title game refs will be Grand Marshals of LSU’s national championship parade back in Baton Rouge— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) April 2, 2023
Iowa’s win over undefeated South Carolina in the semifinals attracted an average of 5.5 million viewers and peaked at 6.6 million. The championship hadn’t even been played, and the women’s tournament had already produced ESPN’s most-watched college basketball game, men’s or women’s, since UNC/Duke in 2008.
That statistic alone should be convincing enough that the hype around women’s basketball is real. In case it isn’t, here are the other records that were broken during this year’s Women’s NCAA tournament:
- LSU’s 102 points on Sunday night broke the previous scoring record by a team in a final (97).
- Iowa’s breakout star, Caitlyn Clark, set the NCAA women’s record for most points scored in the tournament (191).
- Clark’s Elite Eight performance against Louisville made her the only NCAA player of either tournament to achieve a 40-point triple-double.
- Angel Reese, LSU’s famous “Bayou Barbie”, broke the women’s record for most double-doubles in a single season (34).
- Finally, Kim Mulkey, LSU’s head coach, became the first women’s coach to win national titles at two different schools.
Now with all of this excitement and buzz around the tournament, athletic directors nationwide should be taking a good, long look at the funding and marketing for their women’s programs. This year’s tournament feels like a real turning point for the game, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.
In 2021-2022, Georgia Tech's women’s basketball team had a great season, falling in the Sweet Sixteen to the 2022 tournament champs, South Carolina. The Jackets were led that year by Lorela Cubaj, who now plays for Umana Reyer in Italy after a stint with the New York Liberty.
While this year’s season did not boast similar results, there was still a missed opportunity to capitalize on the momentum from the 2022 tournament run. Now another opportunity stands before the GTAA to better use current funding to grow the women’s basketball program in Atlanta. Our team is well-coached and well-equipped to see future success, all they need is school, fan, and maybe some NIL support.
Whether one turned on the championship game because of Caitlyn Clark’s shooting range or Kim Mulkey’s sideline fashion show, people still turned it on and I’d be willing to bet that they’ll tune in again next season. Let's just hope that next year, the referees will too.