Caitlin and Iowa's thrilling victory over South Carolina in the N.C.A.A. on Friday night was a nail-biting one. ESPN reported on Saturday that 5.5 million women watched the semifinal of the women's tournament, citing Nielsen data. This is the third largest audience for an ESPN women's college game and the biggest audience for a semi-final.
2 most-viewed games ever on URL pic.twitter.com/qHD3VtYp3F
ESPN PR (URL), April 1, 2023
Since 1996, ESPN has broadcast the majority of the women's tourney since CBS lost the rights. Only two other games in the early 2000s attracted larger audiences than Iowa-South Carolina, both featuring Diana Taurasi as part of a Connecticut team that had won three championships consecutively.
Clark showed off her offensive and shooting skills on Friday night as Iowa faced a South Carolina team which was undefeated before the match. South Carolina had been considered a heavy favorite to win their second consecutive championship. Clark's 41-point performance, her second straight 40-point effort, was more than enough to meet those expectations. Iowa held off several late Gamecocks pushes and won the game.
This tournament has been highly watched due to the strong viewership of Iowa-South Carolina and the average audience of 3.4 million viewers for the other close semifinal between Louisiana State and Virginia Tech. The viewership of the games on Friday was up 42 percent from last year.
The final between Iowa and L.S.U. will be held at 3 pm Eastern time instead of its usual prime-time slot. It will air on ABC. This is the first time the final has aired on a broadcast network in decades. ABC is more widely available than cable channels such as ESPN or ESPN2.
ESPN may be celebrating the interest in the tournament but it could also mean that the company or another broadcaster will have to spend more in the future. ESPN's broadcasting rights for the tournament and 28 other N.C.A.A. The rights to title events expires next year. A report was commissioned by N.C.A.A. The N.C.A.A. ESPN currently values the tournament at $6 million.
College sports have been pushing to separate the women's tournament and sell it separately to maximize the value. CBS and Turner Sports have a deal for the men's event.
The finalized Nielsen ratings for the semi-final games are not yet available. ESPN released data early based on fast nationals. This is a smaller sample of viewers that are quickly processed. The final data on viewership will not be available until the beginning of next week. Occasionally, final ratings can differ from fast nationals in a significant way.
While it's clear that the matchups on Friday night were well-attended, and that women's college and professional basketball as well as women's football are all more popular, one major caveat makes it hard to compare viewing to previous years.
Nielsen started incorporating out-of home viewing in its ratings data as of 2020. The TV networks have been pushing for this measurement to be included in ratings since years. It takes into consideration people who watch television outside their homes, such as at airports, gyms, bars and other public places. The change has a greater impact on sports than scripted programs, since sports are often shown in public places.
Out-of-home viewing can boost ratings by anywhere between 5 and 10 percent, depending on the sport. If Nielsen had measured out-of home viewing in 2002, when Connecticut beat Oklahoma, they might have found 6 million viewers instead of 5.7 millions.
To understand the popularity of women’s college basketball one need only look at the viewership for men’s tournament. The viewership of all windows for the men's Regional semi-finals and Regional finals was down last weekend compared to last year – some by over 20 percent.