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Women's NCAA championship TV ratings crush the men's competition

An average of about 18.7 million viewers tuned in to watch the South Carolina Gamecocks triumph over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball National Championship on Sunday.
Morry Gash
An average of about 18.7 million viewers tuned in to watch the South Carolina Gamecocks triumph over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball National Championship on Sunday.

The University of South Carolina wasn't the only winner of the NCAA women's basketball tournament. The television networks carrying the game were, too – with a record-setting number of viewers tuning in to watch the championship on Sunday.

The final game, between South Carolina's Gamecocks and the University of Iowa's Hawkeyes, averaged about 18.7 million viewers and peaked at a whopping 24 millioncombined on ESPN and ABC, making it the first time in history that a women's final has drawn a larger TV audience than the men's, according to ESPN.

In contrast, the victory of the men's Division 1 UConn Huskies over Purdue averaged 14.82 million on TBS and TNT.

But it's not the only sports glass ceiling that was crushed; Sunday's game was also the most-watched basketball game, either men's or women's and college or professional, since 2019.

Sunday's title game was the third consecutive record-setting night for television viewership of the women's college tournament. The Elite Eight matchup between Iowa and LSU — a rematch of the 2023 NCAA championship, drew a then-record 12.3 million viewers, ESPN said, with a peak audience of 16.1 million. The subsequent semifinals between Iowa and the University of Connecticut broke that record, attracting 14.2 million TV viewers, ESPN said.

ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro called the championship faceoff "a fitting finale" to the March Madness tournament.

"These exceptional athletes, coaches and teams captured our attention in unprecedented ways and it's incumbent on all of us to keep the incredible momentum going," Pitaro said in a statement.

A new generation of superstar athletes has fueled a new passion for women's basketball, particularly Iowa's Caitlin Clark, who became the most prolific scorer in NCAA history this season.

Other huge draws this season include LSU's Angel Reese, the NCAA's record-holder for double-doubles in a season; UConn's Paige Bueckers, who will be back on the team next year for her senior season instead of entering the 2024 WNBA draft; and the freshman phenom from USC, JuJu Watkins.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.

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