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March Madness viewership, ticket prices grow for women's games, decline for men's

All eyes Friday night will be on the women’s Final Four.

No. 3 Louisiana State University and No. 1 Virginia Tech tip off at 7 p.m., followed by No. 2 Iowa and No. 1 South Carolina at 9 p.m. There is plenty to look forward to in each game. Will Kim Mulkey’s LSU top the Hokies, who are making their first appearance in the Final Four? What viral celebration with Angel Reese come up with next? Will the Hawkeyes or the Gamecocks come out on top?

The Iowa and South Carolina game, as The Athletic’s Grace Raynor writes, is the Final Four matchup that women’s basketball deserves. Iowa has star guard Caitlin Cark, the 2023 Naismith Player of the Year, and legendary coach Lisa Bluder. South Carolina is led by another legend, Dawn Staley, the 2023 Coach of the Year, and forward Aliyah Boston, named Defensive Player of the Year for a second year in a row and a possible No. 1 WNBA draft pick.

So much talent. So much great basketball to be played.

This year’s NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament was already shaping up to be a historic one well before this weekend. Player of the year debates have been thriving. The level of play is through the roof. And, most importantly, more people are watching than ever before.

Caitlin Clark celebrates during Iowa's Elite Eight win against Louisville.
Caitlin Clark celebrates during Iowa's Elite Eight win against Louisville.

It’s worth celebrating that viewership for women’s basketball is skyrocketing, even though eyes on the men's game has declined.

ESPN said viewership for the women’s Sweet 16 was up 73% compared to last year, averaging 1.2 million viewers per game. Elite 8 viewership was up 43% for an average of 2.2 million per game.

The matchup between Iowa and Louisville last Sunday had more TV viewers than any NBA game that ESPN has aired all season so far — with 2.499 million viewers tuning in, according to The Athletic. It was also the highest rated and most viewed broadcast on Sunday.

The Sunday matchup was also historic because of the basketball.

Clark recorded the first 40-point triple-double in men’s or women’s NCAA Tournament history in Iowa’s win over Louisville that night. Clark also became the first player in DI basketball history to record more than 900 points and 300 assists in a single season.

Though the men’s tournament continues to draw more overall fans than the women’s game, viewership of the men's tournament is declining, with the Sports Business Journal reporting a 14% drop year-to-year in the men’s Elite Eight. Overall, men's viewership is down 6% from last year.

Women's ticket prices rising

Not only are more people watching the women’s game from home, attending the women’s Final Four in person will cost more than attending the men’s Final Four. On StubHub as of Thursday, the lowest price to attend both women’s games sat at $428 before fees, while the cheapest ticket for all the men’s games was $68.

There may be different reasons for the disparity in prices.

The women’s side is loaded with talent. According to ESPN, the men’s Final Four will not feature a single former McDonald’s All-American for the first time since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1979. To compare, there are five former All-Americans playing in the women’s Final Four.

The women’s and men’s tournaments are also being played in venues with very different capacities, which could be driving up demand on the women’s side. The women will play inside the Dallas Mavericks’ home arena, American Airlines Center. That venue has a capacity of about 20,000. Meanwhile, the men’s Final Four will be held at NRG Stadium, with a capacity of more than 70,000.

With fewer tickets available for the women’s tournament, that could drive up costs.

Meanwhile, secondary market prices for the women's semifinal and final in Dallas this weekend more than doubled compared to 2022 figures, according to ticketing technology company Logitix. The price per ticket for the semifinal was $367, up 120% over 2022. And the price for the final was $351, up 103% over the prior year.

Secondary market prices for the men's semifinal was down 26% from last year to $819 and down 28% for the final to $415.

Growing demand for the women’s game is great — and proves if you invest in it, fans will come.

Women & Sport is a NorthJersey.com column devoted to female athletes from the rec league level to those in college and the pros. If you've got a tip on an athlete from North Jersey who should be noted in the column, no matter how young they are or how old, please drop me a line at anzidei@northjersey.com.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: March Madness viewership, ticket prices rise for women's games