League logos

March Madness Demonstrates Narrowing Gender Gap

Women’s NCAA Championship Viewership Increases By 95.2% YoY

Anlayses of

No items found.
Social Media
April 14, 2023
April 14, 2023
 min read

Annually, March Madness delivers exhilarating highs and excruciating lows on the hardwood, as the Road to the Final Four features an array of last-second finishes, stunning upsets, and Cinderella stories that are only possible in college basketball’s single-elimination format. And while this year was no different, the spotlight historically focused on men’s basketball continued to broaden and highlight women’s hoops’ still-unrealized potential. While the men’s Final Four lacked the sizzle of last year’s showcase – which included four Blue Bloods converging in New Orleans to decide a champion – the 2023 Women’s Final Four included a defending champion, two No. 1 seeds, and multiple compelling individual athletes that helped draw record television and social audiences. We used MVP’s platform to highlight women’s basketball’s growing interest and how it currently compares to the men’s game by examining viewership totals over the years and measuring social media values across the participating teams’ owned social channels during Final Four week. Among our data discoveries was a 95.2% year-over-year viewership increase for the women’s championship game, which drew an audience of 9.95 million on ABC’s main broadcast.

Women’s Audience Growth Outpaces Men’s

This year’s men’s NCAA Tournament was among the most unpredictable in recent memory, as all four No. 1 seeds were eliminated before the Elite 8 and the presumptive favorite by tip-off in Houston at the Final Four was a No. 3 seed that failed to reach its conference championship and endured a stretch of six losses in seven games only two months earlier. But the novelty of Final Four debutantes Florida Atlantic, Miami, and San Diego State alongside UConn helped buoy viewership figures. Additionally, a return to CBS after last year’s quartet of Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, and Villanova played on TBS undoubtedly augmented the totals. The 2023 men’s national championship audience numbered 15.1 million – a 16.3% year-over-year boost – while the Final Four’s collective viewership total of 41.2 million represented a 14.6% overall increase. However, a fairer comparison to this year’s event was the 2021 Final Four in Indianapolis, which was also broadcast on CBS. Viewership on network television was flat, as an additional 141,596 viewers this year accounted for an increase of only 0.3%. Moreover, championship viewership dipped by 6.7% from the Gonzaga-Baylor game two years ago which drew 16.2 million fans.

But while the men’s game appears to be leveling in recent years, the women’s game is growing substantially, delivering unprecedented audiences and marketing reach for the sport’s athletes, teams, and partners. For the first time since 1995, this year’s national championship was aired on network television, as ABC broadcast the title game between LSU and Iowa after recent finals had been on ESPN. Partly as a result, viewership nearly doubled from last year’s 5.1 million for South Carolina and UConn and was up by 2.51x compared to 2021’s championship between Pac-12 rivals Stanford and Arizona. Importantly, comprehensive coverage of this year’s championship also included an ESPN2 simulcast hosted by women’s basketball legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, whose audience of 987,821 brought the championship’s total viewership to 10.94 million – a number that exceeded last year’s men’s semifinal between Kansas and Villanova. But the championship was not the only example of growing interest in the women’s game. Semifinal audiences were up 44% and 31.9% in their respective time slots relative to last year, as well as 97.4% and 46.1% compared to the 2021 Women’s Final Four. Such growth serves to reinforce the impetus to invest in the women’s game and its ever-burgeoning fan base. In just two years, the difference in championship game viewership for the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours has shrunk from 4.08x to 2.55x to 51.7%. Women’s hoops are catching up to their counterparts.

Want to stay updated with the latest in sponsorship measurement trends?

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

LSU-Iowa Outdraws World Cup Final

An evaluation of college basketball in a vacuum suggests the Women’s Final Four’s rapid growth in recent years should be compelling and spur action among new and prospective partners for the game. But a wider lens reveals the sport’s climax commands comparable attention as some of the largest events across the athletic landscape, illustrating its overwhelming general potential. Accounting for combined viewership across the main and secondary broadcasts of LSU’s victory over Iowa, the championship game was within 1% of the average viewership for last year’s NBA Finals while outdrawing each of the first four games of the series between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors. And remarkably, it also delivered larger audiences than several high-profile events in recent months. The main ABC broadcast alone had a larger audience than the NFL’s Pro Bowl in February – which drew 9.33 million on the same network – and December’s World Cup Final on FOX, which attracted an audience of 9.02 million. Additionally, the 2023 NCAA women’s national championship drew 1.18 million more viewers than this year’s Daytona 500 and eclipsed 2023 NHL and NBA All-Star Game figures by 2.43x and 3.74x, respectively.

Social Values Favor Women’s Semifinalists

Although the Women’s Final Four has boosted its broadcast profile considerably, MVP’s data shows the Men’s Final Four is still the top draw. But our social platform revealed a role reversal online. The women’s semifinalists and their partners enjoyed significantly more exposure during Final Four Week than their counterparts, indicating a strong affinity among their fan bases for women’s basketball content and substantial marketing opportunities for brands. We measured social metrics from each of the eight teams that reached this year’s Final Fours throughout a week ending one day after their sport’s respective championship game. During those overlapping periods, the women’s programs collectively generated $3.64M worth of total post value – roughly 3.19x more than the men’s programs’ aggregate. Moreover, Iowa and LSU each amassed more total post value than all four men’s programs combined, as the Hawkeyes finished the week with $1.99M in post value and LSU was responsible for $1.19M. Additionally, the women’s teams combined for 4.71 million engagements and 164.9 million impressions to eclipse their counterparts by 2.24x and 3.19x, respectively.

Three of the top four teams in terms of post value came from the women’s game. UConn’s men finished third behind Iowa and LSU with $656.7K worth of post value – and was also the only other program to exceed 1 million engagements – while South Carolina’s women, who entered the tournament undefeated, rounded out the top half of our rankings with $331.6K worth of post value thanks to 15 million impressions. But, nevertheless, sheer totals do not tell the whole story of women’s basketball’s maturation. Throughout the month ending April 3, eventual women’s champion LSU grew its social following by 114,941, or 77.5%. The raw growth total was larger than all four men’s teams combined. Led by UConn’s addition of 35,928 followers during an overlapping 30 days, the men’s Final Four programs increased their collective following by 113,095. Furthermore, we discovered growth not only in the women’s programs themselves but in their student-athletes. In the age of NIL, women’s college basketball players are proving they can be prime brand ambassadors. Iowa reached its first championship in three decades with star guard Caitlin Clark playing a lead role. And as her team’s following grew by 65.9% to 181,619 during the month, Clark’s personal following on social media expanded by 2.64x to 585,175.

Marketing Opportunities Abound for Women

Top women’s players and programs clearly have the audiences and acclaim to become social marketing sensations, and their expanded exposure online and on broadcast television will only further cement their influencer statuses. As networks and brands escalate investment in women’s basketball, the gap between its audience and men’s fan bases will continue to narrow. And while March Madness is a demonstrable catalyst for progress, there are meaningful brand value opportunities throughout the college basketball season. Connect with MVP for further media measurement insights and a broader understanding of sponsorship potential in the men’s and women’s games.

Contact Us

What to Expect

Let's have a call to understand your measurement goals.

Take a look at our product and methodology with a demo.

Align our products and services to your needs in a tailored package.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

You May Also Like