The conclusion of the 2021 Women’s College World Series marked an impressive season of growth for women’s sports championship events on ESPN networks. This spring, the NCAA Women’s Final Four, NCAA Gymnastics, NCAA Women’s Volleyball, NCAA Women’s College Cup and the NCAA Women’s College World Series all boasted increases in viewership over their 2019 championship counterparts, some even reaching record audiences.
Most-Viewed NCAA Women’s College World Series Ever
This year’s Women’s College World Series (WCWS) NCAA Softball Championship was the most-viewed ever, averaging 1,203,000 viewers, up 10 percent over the 2019 WCWS. The three-game Championship Series between No. 1 Oklahoma and No.10 Florida State averaged 1,840,000 viewers, up 15 percent over the 2019 Championship Series.
The opening day of the tournament featured a quadruple-header which registered the most-watched opening day since 2009, averaging 755,000 average viewers per game. The day’s lineup was highlighted by unseeded James Madison’s historic upset of No. 1 seed and eventual national champion Oklahoma. The game averaged 620,000 viewers, up 20 percent over 2019’s Game 1 – the most-viewed Game 1 on record.
Most-Viewed NCAA Women’s College Cup Championship Match on Record
The 2020 NCAA Women’s College Cup Championship between No. 1 Florida State and No. 11 Santa Clara on ESPN2 averaged 149,000 viewers, up 51 percent from the 2019 championship on ESPNU, making Santa Clara’s victory the most-viewed Women’s College Cup match on record. Across the semifinals and championship, the Women’s College Cup averaged 100,000 viewers, up 52 percent from 2019 and the second-best Women’s College Cup on record.
NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship Match Up Significantly over 2019
The 2020 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship between No. 2 Kentucky and No. 4 Texas averaged 696,000 viewers, up 28 percent from 2019. Kentucky’s victory, the most-viewed telecast on ESPN2 for the month of April, marked the first volleyball championship for the Southeastern Conference.
Most-Viewed NCAA Gymnastics Championship on ESPN Networks
The 2021 Women’s NCAA Gymnastics Championship Final on ABC was the most-viewed gymnastics championship on ESPN networks ever, averaging 808,000 viewers – an incredible 510 percent increase over the 2019 final on ESPNU. The championship and semifinals averaged 331,000 viewers across ABC and ESPN2 making it the most-viewed college gymnastics championship on ESPN networks ever and up 203 percent from the championship on ESPN2 and ESPNU in 2019.
Most-Viewed Women’s Final Four in Nearly a Decade
The 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s College Basketball Championship Game between No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 Arizona was the most-watched championship game since 2014, averaging 4,077,000 viewers, up nine percent from the 2019 title game.
This year’s Final Four weekend was the sport’s most-watched since 2012, averaging 2,850,000 viewers across the two semifinals and championship game, up 14 percent from 2019. The two semifinal games on ESPN averaged 2,203,000 viewers, up 20 percent from the 2019 semifinals on ESPN2.
ESPN’s commitment to women’s collegiate championships has been steadfast, including the following in just the past four months:
- ESPN added three NCAA women’s sports championships to the schedule this spring – ice hockey, field hockey and cross country, bringing ESPN’s overall lineup to 29 NCAA Championship events, including 15 women’s championships
- The 2021 NCAA Gymnastics Championship aired on ABC, the event’s live broadcast debut
- ESPN expanded its NCAA Volleyball coverage to include every match of the championship on an ESPN platform in 2021
- ESPN’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship coverage featured full national telecasts of every tournament game this year for the first time – and games on ABC for the first time.
- The 2021 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament had every game covered on ESPN platforms, a first for the sport
- The first college softball game aired on ABC during this year’s Super Regionals
WNBA Off to Strong Start, Building on “Wubble” Momentum
With the 2020-21 NCAA season just reaching the rearview, the focus on women’s sports across ESPN networks narrows on the WNBA, which has seen impressive viewership growth in just the first few weeks of the season. The opening doubleheader on ABC averaged 605,000 viewers, up 25 percent over tip-off weekend in 2020.
ESPN’s coverage of women’s sports following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic started with the WNBA “Wubble,” an event now firmly etched into the record books for the players’ impact – on the court, as well as in the community and sports world as a whole. With the spotlight on the sport shining bright, the 2020 WNBA Finals averaged 446,000 viewers for the three-game Seattle Storm vs. Las Vegas Aces series, up 16 percent over the five-game 2019 WNBA Finals.
Game 1 of the Finals averaged 347,000 viewers, up 46 percent over Game 1 in 2019, while the championship-crowning Game 3 of the series averaged 576,000 viewers, up 36 percent over Game 3 in 2019 and up 28 percent over the championship Game 5 in 2019.