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Iowa-South Carolina NCAA women’s final draws record 18.7 million viewers

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March Madness branded Powerade bottles before the game between the Maryland Terrapins and the South Carolina Gamecocks during the Elite Eight round of the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament held at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, on March 27, 2023.
Grant Halverson | NCAA Photos | Getty Images

The NCAA Women’s Championship between Iowa and South Carolina set a record on Sunday, drawing 18.7 million viewers on ABC and ESPN.

The game peaked at 24 million viewers, ESPN said, and was the most-watched NCAA women’s college basketball game since 1992. Viewership jumped 89% from last year’s women’s championship and 285% from 2022, according to ESPN.

The championship, which saw Caitlin Clark-led Iowa fall to South Carolina, was the most-watched basketball game, either men’s or women’s and college or professional, since 2019.

“With a record-setting audience of 18.7 million viewers, Sunday’s Iowa-South Carolina title game was a fitting finale to the most-viewed ever NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament,” said ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro in a statement. “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.”

The semifinals between Iowa and the University of Connecticut last week also shattered viewership records, peaking at 17 million viewers, according to ESPN.

The growth was driven in part by players such as Clark, who has drawn comparisons to some of the sport’s greatest of all time, fueling interest in women’s basketball and attracting new viewers. Clark, 22, has dominated the court and set several records, luring in more fans with the “Caitlin Clark Effect.”

The March Madness tournament was the latest in a series of lightning rod moments for women’s sports in recent months.

Women’s sports broke records in 2023, with estimates from Deloitte predicting that revenue generated by women’s elite sports could surpass $1 billion this year — that is a 300% increase from just three years ago.

Between groundbreaking media deals for women’s sports and private investors and celebrities alike looking to get in, valuations for women’s sports have been driven to record levels.

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