NWSL, NCAA TV exposure reflects growing market for women's sports – USA TODAY

If you hear muffled sobs coming from a man cave or unintelligible muttering by the guy normally spouting misogyny, offer some thoughts and prayers.
Tuesday was a rough day for the “Nobody cares about women’s sports!” crowd.
Within an hour it was announced that the women’s college basketball title game will be shown on ABC and the NWSL’s championship will air in primetime on CBS. That’s right. National showcases for two of the biggest events in women’s sports, without the need for cable or a streaming subscription.
“Historic announcement for our league and our sport,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said.
And one that is long overdue. Not out of charity or pity but, rather, because women athletes have earned it.
Advocates have long insisted that, contrary to what the naysayers would have you believe, there’s a market for women’s sports. They just needed the right platform.
Ratings the last few years have proven that to be true.
The national championship featuring South Carolina and UConn was the most-watched college basketball game, men’s or women’s, on ESPN since 2008. The 4.85 million viewers represented an 18 percent increase over the 2021 championship game and a 30 percent rise since 2019.
The Women’s College World Series averaged 1.1 million viewers, the third consecutive year it’s been above a million, with the championship series averaging 1.6 million viewers. This after the Women’s College World Series and the College Cup, soccer’s national championship, set ratings records last season.
The WNBA announced Thursday afternoon that ratings for the playoffs are up 39 percent over last year so far, with Sunday’s game between the Dallas Wings and Connecticut Sun the most-watched playoff game in 15 years.
This after the league’s ratings on all networks were up 16 percent during the regular season, building on a 49 percent increase last year. The regular-season finale between the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces, a sneak peek at one playoff semifinal matchup, was the most-watched WNBA game in 14 years, peaking at 1.1 million viewers.
National TV games for the NWSL are rare – expect that to change when the league’s three-year deal expires next year – but the league has averaged more than 400,000 viewers for its four games on CBS so far this season. That includes 456,000 for a preseason game between the San Diego Wave and Angel City FC, both expansion teams.
Last year’s NWSL title game drew 525,000 viewers, despite a noon Eastern start.
Oh, and Fox announced last week that it will air the U.S. women’s Oct. 7 friendly against England on the main network. This after the Three Lionesses’ victory over Germany in the European Championship final drew 17 million people, making it the most-watched TV show in England so far this year.
“I was told, ‘Oh, it doesn’t rate, Carol. There’s no eyeballs.’ And I’d go, ‘It doesn’t rate because no one can see it!’ ” Carol Stiff, who oversaw women’s sports programming at ESPN before retiring last summer, told USA TODAY Sports earlier this year.
“I keep using this term, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” Stiff said.
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Now, the men committed to trashing women’s sports – and it is almost exclusively men – will point out that even with the improved ratings, the audiences for women’s sports still don’t compare to those for men’s sports. And that is, largely, true.
But that’s also like gloating about someone winning a 100-meter race after being given a 60-meter head start.
Title IX celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this summer, and the NCAA held the first women’s basketball tournament 10 years after the landmark legislation was enacted. The WNBA is in its 26th season, the NWSL its 10th. Of course they’re not going to be where the NFL, NBA and NCAA men’s tournament, all of which have been around for 75 years or more, are now.
Those leagues weren’t where they are now early on, either. It wasn’t until the NFL merger that every team had all its games on TV. Not until 1968 did networks show serious interest in broadcasting the NCAA men’s tournament. NBA games were still being shown on tape delay into the 1980s.
The potential for women’s sports is vast, and the announcements Tuesday are a reflection of that. If anyone says differently, well, that’s a reflection on them.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 


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