18.7 million: Early figures from NCAA women’s title game make it most-watched hoops game in 5 years

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BRISTOL, Conn. — South Carolina’s victory over Caitlin Clark and Iowa in Sunday’s women’s NCAA championship game had a preliminary audience average of 18.7 million on ABC and ESPN. The only sporting events in the United States to draw a bigger TV audience since 2019 have been , the World Cup and the Olympics.

The audience numbers are expected to increase when Nielsen releases its final numbers on Tuesday. Nielsen says the audience peaked at 24 million.

It’s the most-watched basketball game since 2019, when the men’s NCAA title game between Virginia and Texas Tech averaged 19.6 million on CBS.

Monday night’s men’s final between UConn and Purdue was being shown on TBS and TNT. It’s possible that this will be the first year the women’s title game has a bigger audience.

The 2015 Final Four game between Wisconsin and Kentucky on TBS is the only college basketball game on cable to draw over 18.7 million. That game averaged 22.63 million.

The 2022 men’s final, which matched Kansas and North Carolina on TBS, averaged 18.1 million.

Clark and Iowa have the three biggest audiences for women’s college basketball. The Hawkeyes’ victory over UConn Friday night averaged 14.2 million, and their April 1 victory over LSU in the Elite Eight, a rematch of last year’s title game, drew 12.3 million.

Clark noted the audience total on X, posting “18. 7 MILLION” with a fire emoji.

The audience for the national title game was up 89% over last year, when Clark and Iowa fell to LSU. And it was 285% bigger than the viewership for the Gamecocks’ title two years ago, when they beat UConn.

The last NBA game to draw at least 18 million was Game 6 of the 2019 Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors (18.34 million).

The women’s final also had the biggest audience for a Sunday afternoon sporting event on ESPN and ABC since Jan. 10, 2021, when an NFL playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans averaged 24.82 million. (ESPN and ABC don’t have the rights to Sunday afternoon NFL games throughout the season, which routinely draw audiences exceeding 25 million on CBS and Fox.)

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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