Opinion: March Madness viewing figures prove there is a demand for women’s sport

Stanford

It took a viral TikTok for the NCAA to address the problem of inequality in women’s basketball. For years the likes of Val Ackerman, a former president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, urged the organisation to consider how the women’s game was “played, marketed and managed.” Yet, in the end, it was a 37-second video that caused them to take note.

Indeed, it was a single clip of the outrageously contrasting gym facilities for male and female players at the March Madness tournament in Indianapolis that made a difference. A single snippet into the world of inequality that made people notice, while Ackerman’s 52-page analysis remains unacknowledged.

The speed at which this post circulated the internet and the manner in which so many flocked to support these women highlights the importance of exposure. High-profile male basketball stars such as Steph Curry and Lebron James have vocalised their support for the female game in recent weeks, which has undeniably helped spread the message.

But while exposure to this viral video was naturally generated, as thousands upon thousands shared the clip online, sometimes the exposure has to be manufactured. Broadcasters and the NCAA need to stop waiting for others to express an interest and start telling the world to take an interest.

ESPN’s decision to air the entire tournament was a “direct result of the ever-growing popularity of women’s college basketball,” and the viewing figures for this year reflect just that.

The first-round game between Tennessee and Middle Tennessee on ABC garnered the biggest audience of women’s first-round games since 2010.

Equally, the UConn Huskies matchup against Baylor in the Elite Eight earned 1.7 million average viewers on ESPN –– a 32 percent increase from UConn’s game at the same stage in 2019.

As the tournament reached its climax, new figures released by ESPN showed that the audience for the final between Stanford and Arizona peaked at over five million viewers –– the most in women’s basketball history.

So as these figures keep increasing, and attention, admiration and appreciation for women’s basketball is enhanced, broadcasters must continue to give the women’s game this exposure.

If more of Women’s March Madness is shown, if more women’s basketball in general is shown, and in truth, if more NCAA women’s sport is shown full stop –– then these tweets of appreciation from celebrities, sports stars and influential figures will no longer be deemed newsworthy, but normal.

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