Home Millions are watching women’s basketball: The powers-that-be need to figure out the money

Millions are watching women’s basketball: The powers-that-be need to figure out the money

Chris Graham
college basketball money NIL
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The Iowa-LSU game, which the NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, made an Elite Eight game, not a Final Four game, drew a record 12.3 million viewers, which is more than watched last year’s World Series, more than watched last year’s NBA Finals.

It’s a lot, is the point here.

So much, in fact, that maybe the NCAA, and the NBA, will have to start treating women’s basketball a little more seriously.

“I can’t describe to you how good it is right now in women’s basketball. That’s why I wished this game could have been at the Final Four. Wow, sure was good for an Elite Eight game. We’re proud to be a part of that,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey told reporters after her team’s 94-87 loss on Monday night.

That the game was held before it should have is because the tournament selection committee is populated with doofuses.

Another set of doofuses in charge of the administration of the tournament – you know, those responsible for three-point lines that are nine inches short, and assigning a ref who has a degree from one of the schools to a tournament game, among other things – are now talking about making changes to the women’s tournament for next year that would recognize the growth in interest in the game – for instance, not having first- and second-round games on-campus, not holding the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight at two sites, but using four, as is done for the men’s tournament.

There was nothing in that news about maybe holding the Women’s Final Four in football stadiums in the near future, as has been done for years with the Men’s Final Four.

Doing that would have made a mint for the NCAA this year, with reports that tickets for the Women’s Final Four are going on the resale market at prices more than doubling those for the Men’s Final Four.

Not only is that not on the table, but the NCAA didn’t even have the sense to take advantage of the surge in popularity for the women’s game in its bargain-basement deal with ESPN for TV rights to the women’s tournament.

Inexplicably, the TV rights to the women’s tournament were bundled earlier this year as part of a 40-sport package to ESPN for $115 million a year over the next eight years.

That deal valued the women’s tournament at $65 million per year. A study conducted in 2021 put the value of the women’s tournament then – and, notably, this was before the Caitlin Clark-Angel Reese-influenced surge in TV viewers for women’s hoops – at $81 million a year.

The men’s tournament, incidentally, is the property of Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery on a $900 million-a-year deal through 2032, which is when the deal with ESPN announced in January comes to an end.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the powers-that-be to practically give away the women’s game when there are literally millions of people watching.

And this isn’t just the case with the college game. Clark and Reese have both announced their intentions to declare for the WNBA Draft, so they’re headed to the next level in the summer, despite the obvious – that they can make more money in college through NIL than they can playing a second-tier U.S. pro sport, which is how the NBA treats the WNBA.

How about treating the WNBA on an equal footing with the NBA and moving the season from the summer to the fall, winter and spring, alongside the NBA, you ask?

Before you think to yourself, because more people watch the NBA, keep in mind, that Elite Eight game on Monday night outdrew the 2023 NBA Finals.

The issue isn’t that people aren’t watching; it’s that the people who run the business side of women’s hoops are idiots.

Clark and Reese were asked after Monday’s game about the millions of sets of eyeballs on them and their teammates.

“Yeah, you’re playing for a little more with the Final Four on the line, but to me I’m not thinking, oh, my God, there’s 15 million people at home watching this game right now. Like no, that’s not what’s happening. It’s like, what can I do for my team to help me win the game right now?” said Clark, who had 41 points and an NCAA Tournament record-tying nine threes in the showcase game.

“I think it’s just great for the sport, just being able to be a part of history,” said Reese, who had 17 points and 20 rebounds, while playing through a second-quarter ankle injury. “Like I said, no matter which way it went tonight, I know this was going to be a night for the ages, and just being able to be a part of history is great. Playing against another great player, of course, is always amazing, and our viewership going up. And I’m sure so many different people watched us tonight. I’m happy to be here, I’m happy to keep raising women’s sports, not just women’s basketball, but women’s sports in general.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].