NCAAW Tournament Hits Viewership Record, Despite Not Receiving Equal Resources as the Men’s Teams
The NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament delivered on a number of different fronts, despite its players not receiving equal resources as the men.
For the first time in tournament history, ESPN decided to air the entire 2021 showcase nationally, providing fans with nail-biting performances and phenomenal play across all 63 games. The tournament reached several notable milestones that solidified the women’s place in national broadcasting and public attention, demonstrating a pattern of consistent growth for the Women’s NCAA Basketball tournament in recent years.
The positive ratings and uptick in viewership certainly reflected the high-caliber performances and fantastic style of play. From the onset of the tournament, the basketball world proved that there is clear and unrelenting interest in the women’s games; the first-round contest between Tennessee-Middle and Tennessee earned the biggest audience during any first-round game in the women’s tournament since 2010, garnering 633,000 viewers according to Sports Media Watch.
In later rounds, these numbers only continued to grow. The strong matchup between №1 seed Connecticut and №4 seed Iowa led the way for a notable viewership spike in the Sweet 16 round, which averaged 915,000 viewers across the eight games. These numbers reflect a 66% increase compared to 2019, according to ESPN. Even comparison of statistics among individual teams demonstrates an impressive increase in audience demand; UConn’s Sweet 16 victory over Iowa, for example, marked a 129% increase in average viewers from its 2019 Sweet 16 matchup, earning recognition as the most-watched Sweet 16 game since 2013.
Yet these were not the only milestones achieved in this tournament. Even after teams were eliminated in the Sweet 16 round, it was clear that the demand for women’s basketball was not going anywhere. The Elite Eight matchup between UConn and Baylor averaged 1.7 million viewers on ESPN, a 32% increase from the 2019 UConn Elite Eight game. The nail-biting conclusion of the tournament in Stanford’s narrow 54–53 national championship victory over Arizona brought an end to one of the best women’s tournaments in history, and the viewership milestones definitely show for it
This ever-growing popularity of women’s basketball is evidence of a shifting landscape among college sports in years to come.
“We put a product on the floor that if you give us a chance, you could be proud of,” said University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley. “The casual fan, the dad that likes to sit on the couch and watch sports all day, to the young and to the old, when you find a team, when you find a women’s basketball team, and you support them in a way that you support whatever is your favorite team, you’ll find that your team is probably a pretty darn good basketball team.”
“You’ll fall in love with our game, because our game is a beautiful game.”
Despite all odds, challenges, uncertainties, and inequities surrounding this tournament, the 64 women’s teams made an unforgettable impression that has undoubtedly made more people fall in love with the ever-growing fan base of women’s basketball.