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South Carolina-Iowa showdown for women’s basketball title shatters record with 18.7 million viewers


Sunday’s NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship broke historic ground with a record-setting 18.7 million viewers, as the media frenzy surrounding Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark helped draw new eyes to the sport.

South Carolina beat Iowa 87-75 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland. It was the most-watched basketball game on ESPN since 2019, pro or college, the network said.

At its peak, 24 million viewers tuned in to the game, according to numbers provided by ESPN.

“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. “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.”

On Friday, the semifinal matchup between Iowa and UConn had 14.2 million, with a peak of 17 million, viewers, more than every World Series game or NBA finals game last year.

Iowa beat UConn 71-69 on Friday.

Sunday’s championship was the final college game for the celebrated Clark, who gained national attention for breaking Division I scoring records both for women and men.

She scored 30 points in the championship and is headed to the WNBA draft.

It also marked a perfect season for South Carolina, which saw its Final Four spoiled last year when Iowa took the team out of the tournament.

“Saturday Night Live” noted the attention paid to the college women’s game. A cold-open spoof of March Madness TV coverage addressed the disparity in interest compared to college men’s hoops.

“Women’s tourney got the stars, you know,” said cast member Kenan Thompson, playing a retired NBA star Charles Barkley. “Caitlin Clark is doing ads for State Farm, Subway, Xfinity, and Nike. I’m only doing ads for three of those companies.”

Asked to give viewers a preview of the men’s final, Thompson had to jog his memory and produce some words.

“The men’s final this Monday is, I believe, uh, between Quinnimac College versus Northern Southern State,” he said.


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