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Women's college basketball sees higher TV ratings than NBA; women's sports leaders aren't surprised

Sunday night's game between Iowa and Louisville brought in nearly 2.5 million viewers, a higher number than every NBA game on ESPN this year.

MINNESOTA, USA — Women’s college basketball is having a moment right now.

According to Show Buzz Daily, nearly 2.5 million TV viewers tuned in for Sunday night’s game between Iowa and Louisville.

That number is higher than any NBA game on ESPN this season.

This high TV rating for women's basketball may come as a surprise for some fans, but at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, the news comes as no surprise to the center’s director Dr. Nicole Lavoi.

“This is very exciting for those of us who care deeply about women’s sports and have been beating the drum of investing in women’s sports,” Dr. Lavoi says.

Lavoi isn’t only a researcher who works in this vein of research, she’s also a big sports fan.

“The game was great. I was glued to the TV,” Lavoi says.

She is happy to see the TV networks giving more time and better exposure to women’s basketball.

“That has been a game changer in that sports media companies are investing and broadcasting with high production values. Young girls can now see themselves reflected in visible role models,” Lavoi says.

Compared to the NBA, women's basketball is on fire.

The NBA game with the highest viewership on ESPN this year happened on March 5 between the Knicks and the Celtics.

According to Show Buzz Daily, around 2.14 million TV viewers tuned in for that game.

For women's basketball, three of the four games in the Elite Eight this year had higher numbers.

According to Sports Illustrated, across the entire NCCA tournament, viewership for women's basketball is up 42% over last year, for men the numbers are down 6%.

"There are several factors behind this. One, is athletes themselves have taken more in part of marketing themselves through social media. I think two, is leagues like the Big Ten are investing in Women's Basketball. The Big Ten is the first league in the country to hire a position specifically in women's basketball and that investment paid off with three teams from the Big Ten in the Elite Eight for the first time ever. And three, I think fans are realizing that women’s sport is exciting,” Lavoi explains.

And there's star power, with players like Iowa's Caitlin Clark leading the way.

"She's got the 'it' factor and people love her,” Lavoi says.

Iowa basketball fan Mary Roan says Clark is something special.

"Caitlin Clark is a show and people are attracted to that,” Roan says.

Roan is an Iowa Hawkeye alum from 1984.

She moved to Eden Prairie a few years after graduation and says it’s often difficult to be an Iowa Hawkeyes fan in Minnesota.

"I've got all this excitement and no one at work cares one bit. I work around a bunch of people who don't care about sports unless it's hockey,” Roan laughs.

There may be more Iowa Hawkeyes fans in the Twin Cities than you might think.

The Loop Bar + Restaurant in Minneapolis is the city's official Hawkeye Bar.

Managers say the restaurant was filled to the brim Sunday night with Hawkeyes fans cheering on their favorite team.

“There was a sea of black and gold and it was really loud and fun,” the manager says.

He’s expecting a full house on Friday when Iowa takes on South Carolina.

Both Roan and Lavoi are worried about this matchup, but they're hopeful that their team will find a way to win.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup for them, but they are an amazing team this year,” Roan says.

The tipoff for that game starts at 8:30 p.m. CT in Dallas, Texas.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN.


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