TV Ratings: NCAA Women’s Final Sets Another Record

For the third time in seven days, the NCAA women’s basketball tournament drew its largest audience ever.

Some 18.87 million people watched South Carolina cap an undefeated season by beating Iowa, 87-75, in Sunday’s championship game, according to final same-day Nielsen ratings (that’s an uptick from 18.7 million in preliminary results). The audience is the largest ever for a women’s basketball game in the United States — and among the biggest for any women’s team sporting event.

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Sunday’s broadcast on ABC and ESPN is the third record-setter for women’s basketball in the past week: The Elite Eight matchup between Iowa and LSU (a rematch of last year’s final) drew 12.3 million viewers on April 1, and the Hawkeyes’ Final Four win over Connecticut Friday surpassed that with 14.4 million people watching.

The common factor in all three is Iowa and its star player Caitlin Clark, who brought huge attention to the women’s game as she surpassed NCAA scoring records this season. But the gains for the tournament this year, which more than doubled last year’s average, aren’t all because of that: Games not involving Iowa averaged about 74 percent more viewers than a year ago, according to ESPN. South Carolina’s Final Four win over North Carolina State came in at 7.2 million viewers, a 108 percent increase over the same broadcast window in 2023.

Sunday’s telecast is the most watched basketball game — college or pro, men’s or women’s — since the 2019 NCAA men’s championship game, which averaged 19.63 million viewers. It’s also the second most watched women’s sporting event (outside of the Olympics) on record, behind only the 2015 World Cup final between the United States and Japan (a combined 26.7 million viewers on Fox and Telemundo). The 1999 World Cup title match drew just under 18 million viewers on ABC.

Those numbers are all dwarfed by the first night of the women’s figure skating competition at the 1994 Olympics. Fueled by the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding saga, CBS drew 78.7 million viewers that night — a figure only Super Bowl telecasts have surpassed. Other women’s figure skating and gymnastics competitions in the Olympics have also topped the 2015 World Cup.

April 9, 10:30 a.m. Updated with final ratings for the championship game and Final Four.

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