It’s become an annual rite this time of year to discuss the state of women’s college basketball on this blog. Two years ago, we highlighted the woeful treatment given to women players at their tournament compared to the men. Last year, we highlighted the positive indicators like jumps in TV ratings, sponsorship money (women players earned more than men), more-equal treatment of female athletes, and using March Madness branding by the women’s tournament for the first time.
The 2023 tournament was another leap forward in many ways. The games were exciting, with compelling storylines like Iowa’s upset of undefeated South Carolina in the semi-finals thanks to the unstoppable national player of the year Caitlin Clark. Moreover, the level of play in general and LSU’s win powered by Angel Reese caught the attention of audiences who usually do not watch women’s basketball or basketball in general — television ratings for this year’s title game were a 103% increase over last year with 9.9 million viewers on ABC/ESPN2.
Timing is everything, and the NCAA will need to renew its broadcast contract in 2024. Just as men’s basketball already has a standalone deal, the new deal will likely involve a separate agreement just for women’s basketball. It may not equal the men’s $1.1 billion annual contract, but it will be significantly closer than the $34 million deal that currently includes the bulk of college sports that are not football or men’s basketball.
Just wait until next year
Before NIL deals, college players would have to go to the pros to earn lucrative contracts. It led to star players leaving early. The next season will feature Reese (who has 20-plus deals) and Clark (not far behind) still playing college ball. UConn phenom Paige Bueckers was already an electrifying star and national player of the year in 2021-2022 as a freshman. She will return to the college courts next season after being sidelined by a back injury this past season. These stars and others will likely bring even bigger audiences with them next year.