Another Ratings Record Falls as Iowa Advances to the Final Four

LSU-Iowa lived up to the hype, as a record crowd tuned in to watch the rematch of last year’s women’s Division I basketball championship.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Caitlin Clark’s 41-point performance helped ESPN scare up 12.3 million viewers on Monday night, making this the most-watched women’s hoops telecast in history. The previous record, set in the dark days before the people meter era, was posted by CBS; its broadcast of USC’s 69-67 victory over Louisiana Tech in the 1983 title game averaged 11.8 million viewers.

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When last the Tigers and Hawkeyes met, their testy title tilt averaged 9.92 million viewers on ABC, which set a high-water mark for the modern Nielsen era (1988-present).

Iowa’s 94-87 win clears the way for Clark and the Hawkeyes to take another shot at a title, although they’ll have to get by UConn Friday night in the Final Four. The top seeds are 2.5-point favorites against the No. 3 Huskies, who are looking to nail down their 13th overall championship, and the program’s first since 2016. (For Geno Auriemma’s squad, a seven-year layoff is a drought of Dust Bowl proportions.)

Among the top spenders in the LSU-Iowa telecast were Nissan, Wendy’s and AT&T—all of which are official NCAA sponsors. Also making a splash last night was first-time women’s tourney backer, the Home Depot.

While Monday’s deliveries are yet another indication that the women’s game has come into its own, the men haven’t exactly been greeted with cricket noises. On Easter Sunday, North Carolina State’s upset of Duke averaged 15.1 million viewers on CBS, a TV turnout that was boosted by a hearty helping of out-of-home deliveries. (The impact of OOH is readily apparent upon examination of the year-to-year rates of change; per Nielsen, deliveries for the Wolfpack’s 76-64 ouster of the Blue Devils were up 34% versus the analogous window in 2023, while the household rating was up by just 5%.)

NC State’s Elite Eight win also topped each frame of the five-game 2023 NBA Finals. Through the weekend, the men’s tourney windows are up 4% versus the year-ago period, with an average draw of 9.43 million viewers across the four networks (CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV). On a standalone basis, the individual telecasts are up 2% to 3.63 million viewers per game.

Supercharged by Clark & Co., the ratings gains on the women’s side of the ledger have been far more pronounced. Deliveries for the Sweet 16 were double that of the eight-game block in 2023, as ABC and ESPN averaged just shy of 2.5 million viewers per telecast.

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