March Madness: Men's, women's Sweet 16 viewership sees uptick

On3 imageby:Pete Nakos04/01/24


Ahead of one of the most anticipated nights in the history of women’s college basketball, viewership numbers have been released from Friday’s Sweet 16 games.

Returns show an uptick in viewership for March Madness. According to data from Sports Media Watch, Friday night’s regional semifinal between No. 4 seed Duke and top-seeded Houston.

The matchup averaged 7.33 million viewers on CBS, up 52% in viewership from TexasXavier last year. The most-watching sporting event of the day, Duke’s upset ranks second out of eight Sweet 16 games this year trailing just AlabamaNorth Carolina.

Tennessee and Creighton averaged 3.33 million viewers on TBS and truTV, down 24% from Creighton-Princeton a year ago. Still, this year’s window averaged 10.66 million viewers across CBS, TBS and truTV, up from 16% last year.

CBS also saw 6.44 million viewers tune into No. 11 seed NC State’s upset of No. 2 Marquette, a 25% increase in viewership from Miami-Houston in 2023 during the same window. Purdue’s win over Gonzaga brought in 3.84 million viewers, down from San Diego State’s exciting upset of Alabama in the same window last year. Still, the combined average marked a 6% increase from a year ago.

The Friday night men’s slate averaged 10.47 million viewers across CBS, TBS and truTV, up 11% from a year ago. The full slate of Sweet 16 games averaged 10.35 million, also up from 2023.

Women’s March Madness finding TV success

According to ESPN, last year’s national championship game averaged 9.92 million viewers, peaking at 12.6 million, the most watched women’s college basketball game to date. That title game was also the first championship game televised on a broadcast network since 1995 when it was on CBS.

Monday night’s matchup between Iowa and LSU could make a run at that viewership record.

Friday’s Sweet 16 games, which didn’t include the Hawkeyes or Tigers, were impressive. The four games averaged 1.28 million viewers on ESPN, up 32% from 2023. South Carolina’s win over Indiana was the most-watched game of the day with 2.11 million viewers. The Gamecocks’ close win is the second-largest Sweet 16 audience.

Oregon State’s win over Notre Dame finished with 1.2 million viewers, while NC State-Stanford pulled in 1.16 million. Texas-Gonzaga pulled in 683,000 viewers.

In early January, the NCAA signed an eight-year agreement with ESPN worth $115 million annually to televise 40 college sports championships each year, including the Division I women’s basketball tournament. The value of the women’s basketball property only appears to be growing, currently valued at about $65 million per year, per The Athletic.

The deal was an increase of more than 300% per year on what the previous 14-year deal with ESPN was paying the NCAA. The success of women’s college basketball had plenty to do with the new deal. Interest is just starting to climb.

Monday night could deliver a TV ratings bonanza for the sport.