The good news for the men’s side was that the Bears’ 86-70 triumph was still the most-watched basketball game, both at the college and NBA level, since the pandemic began (via The Hollywood Reporter). Gonzaga’s pulsating win Saturday over UCLA in the national semifinals, which was quickly hailed as one of the greatest NCAA tournament games ever, attracted almost 15 million viewers and easily emerged as the week’s most-watched prime-time show.
However, that was not the case for this year’s women’s NCAA tournament, according to ESPN, which declared Monday that ratings compared with 2019 were up not only for the title game but also for the national semifinals, the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16. For the first time, all the games in the tournament were nationally televised, including six that aired on ABC. That marked the first time since CBS in 1995 that a broadcast network carried some of the women’s games (per the NCAA).
The ESPN-aired women’s final, in which the Cardinal edged the Wildcats in a battle of Pac-12 squads, earned almost 4.1 million viewers, up 9 percent from 2019. In reaching that game, Arizona knocked out Connecticut, a traditional power that boasted a freshman phenom in Paige Bueckers. The semifinals, which also featured 2017 tournament champion South Carolina, saw a 20 percent ratings improvement from 2019, ESPN said.
U-Conn.'s Sweet 16 matchup with Iowa and freshman star Caitlin Clark drew an average audience of 1,563,000, which ESPN claimed was the second-most ever for a game in that round. Overall, the women’s Sweet 16 was said to be up a whopping 67 percent from 2019.
The Baylor-Gonzaga matchup was the least-watched final on CBS since the network began broadcasting the men’s national final in 1982 (via CNBC). When Gonzaga lost to North Carolina in the 2017 final, approximately 22 million people tuned in to CBS. The 2019 championship game, in which Virginia defeated Texas Tech, attracted around 19 million viewers. TBS aired the 2018 final, which garnered 16 million in viewership as Villanova beat Michigan.