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College Basketball TV ratings 2024: Women’s and men’s TV viewership, Final Four makes history

Credit: Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

College basketball TV ratings certainly don’t come close to the numbers you’ll see in college football or the NBA. However, amid discussions about declining popularity and the lack of stars in men’s basketball ahead of March Madness 2024, women’s college basketball TV ratings keep climbing.

The effect of Iowa Hawkeyes superstar Caitlin Clark certainly plays a part in this. However, the women’s game is also generating fantastic rivalries, including Iowa vs. Angel Reese and the LSU Tigers. The dominance of the South Carolina Gamecocks has also helped the popularity of women’s college basketball increase.

Related: Undefeated national champions in women’s college basketball

Ahead of March Madness, let’s dive into a side-by-side comparison of college basketball TV ratings for both the men’s and women’s games followed by an individual breakdown of each sport.

Table of Contents

March Madness TV Ratings: Men’s and Women’s College Basketball Viewership

Here are the college basketball TV ratings for March Madness 2024 through the Elite Eight, not including LSU vs Iowa and UConn vs USC on Monday night. We’ll provide updates after the numbers from those games are made available.

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Men’s NCAA Tournament TV ratings

RoundAvg. Viewers
First Four6.2 million total
First Round8.3 million
Sweet Sixteen10.31 million (5% increase)
Elite EightTBA
Final FourTBD
National ChampionshipTBD
2024 March Madness (Men’s)9.44 million

The first round of the men’s March Madness tournament averaged 8.3 million viewers, making it the most-watched first round ever under the traditional format, per Turner Sports. The Sweet Sixteen averaged 10.31 million viewers per game, a 5 percent increase from last season.

Women’s NCAA Tournament ratings

RoundAvg. Viewers
Second Round1.6 million*
Sweet Sixteen2.6 million viewers*
Elite Eight6.2 million viewers*
Final Four10.65 million viewers*
National ChampionshipTBD
* = Record for women’s college basketball

The women’s NCAA Tournament set multiple records this year in partnership with ESPN and ABC. The Iowa vs West Virginia game averaged 4.9 million viewers, making it one of the most-watched games in women’s college basketball history outside of a national championship.

The second round of the women’s NCAA tournament averaged 1.4 million viewers, which not only is the highest ever recorded for the second round, an increase from a 650,000 average in 2023.

ESPN announced that the women’s Sweet 16 averaged 2.4 million viewers, a 96 percent increase compared to the. tournament in 2023. Most notably, the Iowa vs Colorado game averaged 6.9 million viewers on NBC and four games averaged at least 2 million viewers. In the women’s NCAA Tournament, four games averaged over 3 million viewers and eight games averaged at least 2 million viewers.

Led by the record-setting LSU vs Iowa matchup, the women’s Elite Eight averaged 6.2 million viewers for its broadcasts, making it the most-watched Elite 8 in women’s basketball history and an 184 percent improvement over the ratings last year. The women’s Final Four averaged 10.65 million viewers, another record.

LSU vs Iowa TV ratings

Monday’s Elite Eight matchup between the LSU Tigers and Iowa Hawkeyes was the most highly-anticipated women’s college basketball game ever. A rematch of the 2023 national championship, the showdown between Caitlin Clark vs Angel Reese made history.

LSU vs Iowa averaged 12.3 million viewers, the most-watched women’s college basketball game ever. It was also the most-watched college basketball game in ESPN’s history and the most-watched basketball game, including the NBA, on ESPN since the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

Comparing men’s and women’s basketball TV ratings

Here is a breakdown of the most-watched college basketball games this year, separated by men’s and women’s basketball.

Most-watched men’s CBB games (2023-’24)

NC State vs DukeCBS15.14 million
Tennessee vs PurdueCBS10.39 million
Michigan State vs UNCCBS10.02 million
Gonzaga vs KansasCBS8.28 million
Utah State vs PurdueCBS8.08 million
JMU vs DukeCBS7.8 million
Alabama vs UNCCBS7.8 million
Texas vs TennesseeCBS6.66 million
Clemson vs ArizonaCBS6.53 million
Oakland vs KentuckyCBS6.21 million
Dayton vs ArizonaCBS6.18 million
Colorado vs MarquetteCBS5.61 million
JMU vs WisconsinCBS5.24 million
All games were in March Madness

Most-watched women’s CBB games (’23-’24)

MM: Iowa vs UConnESPN14.2 million
MM: Iowa vs LSUESPN12.3 million
MM: S. Carolina-NC StateESPN7.1 illion
MM: Iowa vs ColoradoABC6.9 million
MM: UConn vs USCESPN6.7 million
MM: Iowa vs WVUESPN4.9 million
MM: UCLA vs LSUABC3.6 million
Ohio State vs IowaFOX3.39 million
MM: Iowa vs Holy CrossABC3.2 million
Big Ten ChampionshipCBS3.02 million
MM: IU vs South CarolinaESPN2.1 million
MM: Syracuse vs UConnESPN2.05 million
MM: M. Tenn vs LSUABC2 million
MM: Duke vs UConnESPN2 million
Iowa at Ohio StateNBC1.857 million
Iowa vs Nebraska played in Big Ten Championship

While ESPN and CBS are broadcasting more men’s college basketball games, giving them more of the most-watched college basketball games this year, FOX has averaged higher college basketball TV ratings for the women’s game than the men’s.

Related: See the Caitlin Clark effect on Indiana Fever season ticket prices, WNBA interest

College Basketball TV ratings on FOX

Avg. Viewers
Men’s CBB946,000
Women’s CBB980,000
Data via Michael Mulvihill

This helps speak to why ESPN agreed to an eight-year, $920 million deal with the NCAA for the rights to women’s March Madness and 39 other championships. Disney sees the trends and is beginning to showcase women’s college basketball more with plans to give it more of an equal spotlight moving forward.

Related: Best women’s college basketball players 2024

CBS scores historic women’s college basketball TV ratings

The highly-anticipated Big Ten Conference Tournament championship game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Nebraska Cornhuskers delivered new record-setting TV ratings for CBS. On March 12, CBS Sports PR announced the Iowa vs Stanford game averaged 3.01 million viewers, peaking at 4.45 million viewers when it went into overtime. It marked the most-watched college basketball game on CBS in the last 25 years. It’s also the second women’s college basketball game this year to average at least 3 million viewers, with bigger audiences expected for March Madness 2024.

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What are the TV ratings for women’s college basketball?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Kentucky at Louisiana State
Credit: Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

Women’s college basketball is seeing a popularity boom across the country. Fox experienced a 48 percent growth in TV ratings for women’s basketball this season, which is just part of the 60 percent increase across major television networks during the 2023-’24 season.

Related: Women’s college basketball rankings

The rapidly growing sport isn’t just gaining traction this season, this is a trend across multiple seasons. The 2023 national championship game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and LSU Tigers averaged 9.9 million viewers on ESPN, making it the most-watched women’s college basketball game on record. It was also the most-watched college basketball game ever on ESPN, including men’s basketball.

2023 Women’s March Madness ratings

RoundAvg. Viewers Growth (from 2022)
First Round257,00027%
Second Round615,00030%
Sweet Sixteen1.2 million73%
Elite Eight2.2 million43%
Final Four6.5 million87%
National Championship9.9 million104%
Statistics via ESPN Press Room

It’s not just March Madness that is pulling in more viewers than in years past, the 2022-’23 women’s college basketball regular season had an 11 percent increase over the previous year and recorded its highest average audience since the 2014-’15 season. This year, those marks are expected to be surpassed.

Clark gets a majority of the credit for this and there’s no denying the “Caitlin Clark effect’ on college basketball TV ratings. However, the sport is also in great hands moving forward. USC Trojans guard JuJu Watkins is completing one of the best seasons ever by a freshman basketball player, ranking second in scoring (27.4 PPG) and delivering 12 3-point performances. Beyond Watkins, there’s also Notre Dame guard Hannah Hidalgo, UCLA sophomore Lauren Betts and Texas freshman Madison Booker. The future of women’s college basketball is extremely bright.

Concerns for men’s college basketball TV ratings

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Kentucky
Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

As stars like Clark, Reese and Watkins become household names in college basketball, the men’s game is in a dire position. The top NBA talent in recent years, including the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft, is coming from overseas. Meanwhile, the best players in the men’s game aren’t recognized by anyone outside of loyal supporters of the game.

Coaches are now the most well-known figures on the men’s side and some of the biggest names have either retired or lost their luster. Unsurprisingly, it’s having an effect on college basketball TV ratings for men’s March Madness.

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As highlighted by SportsMediaWatch.com, the four least-watched men’s national championship games have all been played in the last six years.

Least Watched NCAA Men’s National Championship TV ratings by year

  1. 2023: UConn vs San Diego State – 14.7 million avg. viewers
  2. 2018: Villanova vs Michigan – 16 million
  3. 2022: Kansas vs North Carolina – 17.1 million
  4. 2021: Baylor vs Gonzaga – 17.1 million
  5. 2004: UConn vs Georgia Tech – 17.1 million

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Keep in mind with these numbers that the NCAA generated more than $1 billion in revenue from March Madness in each of the last two years.

Men’s March Madness TV ratings 2023

RoundAvg. AudienceChange
Elite Eight8.68 million-14%
Final Four12.34 million-17%
National Championship14.7 million-15%
Viewership for the entirety of March Madness dipped 6 percent from 2022 to 2023

If there’s one hope for the NCAA, it’s set that the NBA is considering eliminating the G-League Ignite team after this season. In that scenario, top high school stars would enter college and that could help men’s college basketball start to have more recognized names. Perhaps, incoming freshman Cooper Flagg can be the star that finally helps the men’s game start to turn its TV ratings around. If not, there are even bigger problems ahead.

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