UConn’s double-overtime Elite Eight win over No. 1 seed NC State on Monday night averaged upwards of 2 million viewers on ESPN—good for the largest audience for a non-Final Four women’s NCAA Tournament game in 16 years. The 2006 Elite Eight clash (which also featured the Huskies, though on the other side of the scoreboard after falling to Duke by just two points in overtime) averaged 2.24 million viewers. Geno Auriemma’s crew has been a consistent draw throughout the tournament, with its narrow second-round victory over Central Florida averaging 1.1 million viewers, the most-watched early-round game since 2009.
The thrills in the runup to the Final Four yield to the promise of a pair of even more enticing games this weekend in Minneapolis. The No. 2 Huskies take on No. 1 Stanford on Friday in primetime, right after a showdown of top seeds Louisville and South Carolina.
Despite the matchups and strong attendance throughout the tournament, there were no major swings in average ticket prices; the average resale price of a Final Four ticket only jumped 6% in the aftermath of the Elite Eight once the matchups were set, according to SeatGeek.
The modest increase brought the average resale price for this year’s women’s Final Four to $204, making it the most in-demand semifinal ticket since 2018 when the average ticket resold for $228 (UConn and Louisville both played in that Final Four, too).
“Of course, the market may have already been anticipating these four teams, or at least three of them, given their higher seeds,” Chris Leyden, SeatGeek’s director of consumer strategy, said in an email. Historically, higher seeds have dominated the women’s event. In news that doesn’t bode well for the perennial powerhouse Huskies: No. 1 seeds have won 21 of the last 27 national championships.
UConn, though, has the largest financial backing of the remaining national championship contenders, all of whom boast some of the biggest women’s basketball budgets in the country. The nearly $8 million in expenses on the Huskies’ balance sheet tops the list of public NCAA spenders (only Baylor, a private institution, boasts a bigger women’s basketball budget, according to data submitted annually to the U.S. Department of Education), but even the Final Four contender with the smallest budget in the group—Louisville, at $5.4 million—still outspent the average Division I women’s basketball program by more than $3 million.
Among public FBS schools, accounted for in Sportico’s college athletics finances database, which uses data from financial reports schools submit to the NCAA each year obtained through public records requests, the Cardinals’ budget comes in at No. 12.
Stanford reported $5.6 million in women’s basketball expenses during the 2019-2020 season, according to the Department of Education. Another private institution, Stanford’s NCAA financial report is not available through public records requests, and while the methods and considerations vary somewhat between the two reporting systems, Stanford’s budget would still sit within the top 10.
The remaining title contenders outspent their early-round opponents by as much as $6 million. And while the financial mismatch between this weekend’s participants is much less significant, the final pairings present gaps of their own. UConn, also one of the top earners in women's college basketball, operates with a budget more than 40% bigger than Stanford’s, and South Carolina’s is nearly 30% larger than Louisville’s.
Whichever financial powerhouses prevail will find themselves in an even bigger spotlight come Sunday: a primetime title clash on ESPN. The finale will play in the peak broadcast window—8 p.m. ET—for the first time in six years, thanks to the delayed start to the MLB season, which removed a Sunday Night Baseball game from ESPN’s prime slot.
Sportico will be publishing short business highlights throughout the three-week NCAA tournament.
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March 18: Upsets Abound Beyond Saint Peter’s
March 19: Money Talks in the Women's Tournament
March 26: The NCAA’s Billion-Dollar Cash Cow