The women’s NCAA basketball tournaments are gaining larger audiences, resulting in significant exposure on network TV for the first time in 28 years.
- After a 16% rating increase during last year’s tournament, the women’s NCAA final will play on ABC on April 2.
- All ad slots for the game have already sold out, The Hustle reports.
- With more viewership may come more money. ESPN is reportedly considering selling women’s tournament rights separately next year, something it already does for the men’s games.
- At the same time, professional women’s basketball has also received higher ratings.
- Over the last several years, sports broadcasting rights have become increasingly valuable. With increased revenue, professional women’s teams could also see a higher pay rate.
Why it’s news
Sports broadcasting can be a lucrative business, but women’s events have historically been less profitable than men’s. Last year, Apple struck a 10-year, $2.5 billion media rights deal with the men’s Major League Soccer to stream its games on Apple TV.
Last year’s men’s March Madness tournament brought in some of the highest viewership records in the tournament’s history. The game between the University of Kansas and the University of North Carolina had an average audience of 18.1 million viewers, making it the most-watched March Madness Final, Forbes reports.
- The 2022 women’s tournament averaged 634,000 viewers per game on ESPN networks.
- The final game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and UConn Huskies had 4.85 million viewers, the most watched women’s championship since 2004, The Hustle reports.
- By comparison, the 2021 final had about 4 million viewers, and the 2019 championship had 3.6 million.
Women’s viewership still falls behind men’s games, but interest is growing. Women’s professional basketball has also seen an uptick in ratings. Franchise values are also growing more valuable. Recently, the professional basketball team The Seattle Storm was valued at $151 million, The Hustle reports.
Fans are also showing a greater interest, illustrated by their willingness to pay for more expensive merchandise. WNBA All-Star Sabrina Ionescu will release a new Nike shoe this spring. Adult-sized shoes will sell for around $125.
The main obstacle to women athletes getting paid equal amounts to male athletes is that women’s sports do not generate as much revenue as men’s, and therefore do not have a pool of money to pay higher salaries. This increased exposure and, eventually, ad revenue and ticket sales might help bridge the gap between the pay disparity.
Backing up a bit
The Women’s World Cup prize money has reached $152 million, four times higher than in 2019 but less than the men’s Qatar World Cup’s $440 million.
The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) Women’s World Cup, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, will begin in mid-July and end in mid-August. Thirty-two women’s soccer teams from around the world will compete to win their portion of the $152 million combined prize.
Of that total, $110 million will go toward prize money, and the rest will be dedicated to other team funds during the tournament. By contrast, the Qatar World Cup, where men’s soccer teams competed, had a $440 million total package.
Due to the events being held in Australia and New Zealand, the time difference will make viewing more difficult for European fans. As a result, fewer broadcasters have bought the rights to show the tournament games, meaning the women’s event will bring in less revenue.
This is the same issue FIFA officials faced in 2018 and 2019 when the men’s tournament brought in $3 billion in broadcast revenue while the women’s event the next year earned $300 million.