'Having our moment': CU women's basketball draws national attention

Mar. 29—The University of Colorado women's basketball team will take on Iowa in a nationally televised March Madness rematch on Saturday, adding to the excitement and national attention the team has earned this season through its success on the court.

The game will be nationally televised on ABC at 1:30 p.m. as the network looks to capitalize on the star power of Iowa guard Caitlin Clark. Alexis Williams, senior associate athletic director for external operations, said it's the first time since the late '90s that the women's basketball team is being nationally televised in this way.

"Being on ABC this weekend is special," Williams said, adding, "I have a feeling this year will be top (in viewership) and there will be millions of people tuned in."

Ande Lampert, a Denver resident who grew up in Boulder, plans to attend the game against Iowa this weekend. Growing up, she attended the CU women's basketball camps and is "so excited" to see Clark and see how the Buffs match up against a Hawkeyes team that ended the Buffs' March Madness run last year.

"As far as women's sports, it feels like we're having our moment and people are catching the attention of the Sweet Sixteen and March Madness in general," Lampert said. "It's been exciting to see that people care and recognize that women's sports are having their moment right now."

This marks back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances for the Buffs, who also beat the reigning national champion LSU on national TV in November to kick off the season.

The team's success led to their first sold-out game since 1995 and the fifth sellout in program history when they played UCLA in January. Five of the top 16 highest attendance games for the CU women's team have come this season, with the UCLA sellout at number one with 11,338 fans.

The average ticket attendance for a game was 5,212 this season compared to last year's average of 1,571, and the average attendance for conference games increased from 2,346 last year to 7,078 this year. The number of season ticketholders increased from 634 last year to 1,136 this year, and donation dollars for the women's basketball team have also increased by 102%.

"Everything has increased," Williams said, adding, "We just have so many people excited about supporting the women's basketball team."

The university saw a 367% increase in group tickets compared to last year and a 366% increase in new season tickets. The team also saw a 21,000 increase in followers across all social media platforms, including Instagram, X, Threads, Facebook and TikTok.

"To see the university and athletics rising to the level that I think everyone in town always believed they could and get the national attention they deserve has been so fun and incredibly inspiring," Lampert said.

The athletic department is calling the increases in attendance, donations and followers the "Payne Effect" after head coach JR Payne.

"I think being on national television, for this type of game with this type of magnitude is going to be incredible," Payne said during a press conference earlier this week. "Because like I said, this place is awesome. Anyone that's been to Boulder, anyone that's been throughout these facilities and spent time within our programs here knows that CU is a very special place. Our brand of style of play is fun. It's exciting. So, I'm very, very excited for the world, and especially recruits, future families that we want to recruit, to be able to see what we have going on here."

CU Regent Lesley Smith has been a fan of the women's basketball team for decades along with her family, who will be joining her at the game against Iowa on Saturday.

"This year, going to the games and having them sold out which I've never seen was just really exciting," Smith said, adding, "Everywhere I go people are excited in Boulder, it's just really fun."

Smith said it's been a great year in general for CU athletics, citing the sold-out football games, exciting men's basketball playoff run, the ski team's national championship and the opportunity for CU Boulder to host the Pac-12 track and field championships in May. She said the impact of that success is evident in the number of students applying and staying at CU Boulder.

"It's brought a lot of attention to CU in a positive way and students are excited to come," Smith said.

LaTonya Watson, associate director for academics and academic coordinator for the women's basketball team, said a great way to measure the impact of success in athletics is to look at the new freshmen applications to the university.

Applications for the fall of 2024 are still open, but CU Boulder announced initial data in early March showing a record-breaking 68,000 applications, marking about a 20% increase from last year. Applications from Black and African American students are up about 50.5%, Hispanic and Latino applications are up about 25.6% and American Indian and Alaskan Native student applications are up about 15%.

In addition to the basketball and football teams' success, Watson noted recent wins and successes in women's tennis, lacrosse and soccer.

"When one sport does particularly well, all of our sports benefit from it in some way, shape or form," Watson said, adding, "We build off each other, we feed off each other and it gives people all across the country a glimpse of hey, I didn't know that about Colorado. It gives us that spotlight."

Williams said women's basketball has a rich tradition with fans that have been following the team for decades. Football and men's basketball also have a rich tradition at CU Boulder, she said, and there was a time when all three sports were having success at once.

"This is reminding those true Buffs fans of the early to mid-90s when all those teams were excelling," Williams said. "It's an exciting time to be a Buff."