A record number of fans—and a boisterous bunch at that—attended the first and second-round games in this year’s women’s NCAA basketball tournament. The 32 contests, a particularly competitive slate, brought an unprecedented 216,890 spectators for the pair of opening rounds, topping the previous record set in 2004. The slate drew a decent couch crowd as well: Viewership was up 15% through the same span, according to ESPN. The second round saw the biggest jump, averaging 474,000 viewers (a 25% boost over 2021).
The top 16 women’s seeds hosted the opening rounds, and many of these same schools were seeing significant upticks in their own ticket sales in the years just before the pandemic, according to revenue numbers housed in Sportico’s collegiate finances database.
Across all public FBS schools, reported revenue from women’s basketball ticket sales jumped 11%. The spike was even higher among public Power Five schools, where ticket sales for women’s basketball jumped by nearly 15% from the 2017-18 season through 2019-2020, the last year without any COVID-19 disruptions. Men’s basketball ticketing revenue dropped 0.5% within the same group.
On-court success has clearly translated into more filled seats. Recent perennial powerhouse Oregon saw the biggest increase from 2017 through 2020—during which the Ducks’ average attendance grew from 4,255 to 10,852, according to the school—while Dawn Staley’s top-seeded South Carolina rounded out the top 10. Rising stars Arizona and NC State are also among the programs with the most growth.
Those figures come from financial reports submitted by each institution to the NCAA annually, obtained by Sportico through public records requests.
COVID has interrupted those patterns across the board, impacting attendance during both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. Oregon, for example, averaged just 7,751 fans per home contest during the current campaign as it continued to navigate COVID surges and some local restrictions. But schools are optimistic fans will return to pre-pandemic levels in short order and the revenue will return to its upward trajectory, hoping the same momentum pushing the NCAA to increase eyeballs on and investment in the women’s side of March Madness will translate to the regular season.
Sportico will be publishing short business highlights throughout the three-week NCAA tournament.
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