Women’s basketball: Winning eyeballs and landing windfalls

The NCAA and WNBA are turning increased exposure into financial momentum.

The women’s NCAA Tournament narrowed to 16 teams last night, but another Sweet 16% looms large over the sport’s future.

women playing basketball

After last year’s tourney ratings increased 16% YoY, per AP, the national final will return to TV’s biggest stage: ABC’s April 2 broadcast will be the first women’s title game on network TV in 28 years. All ad slots have sold out.

Cash outlook: buckets

Bigger money may follow. When ESPN’s wider college deal expires next year, the NCAA will reportedly consider selling women’s tournament rights separately (as it does for the men’s tourney).

The value of sports broadcasting rights deals have exploded in recent years.

  • MLS netted $2.5B from Apple last year; the soccer league’s past season averaged ~450k viewers on network TV, per Sports Business Journal data.
  • By comparison, the women of last year’s March Madness reeled in an average of 634k viewers per game across the ESPN networks. That number jumped to 4.85m viewers for the title game, just ~1m fewer than the 2022 Emmys.

It isn’t just college basketball that’s thriving

The WNBA is also on the rise. Per The Wall Street Journal, TV ratings are up and the pro league’s first capital-raising round brought in $75m.

Franchise values are skyrocketing — The Seattle Storm was recently valued at $151m — and as journalist Lindsay Gibbs points out, the WNBA even outpaces NBA valuation at this point in its history.

League expansion is on the table. That would likely command steep entry fees.

  • Women’s soccer league NWSL, also booming, recorded franchise fees of ~$50m each for its incoming Bay Area and Boston teams.

Even the sneakers show the women’s game ascending — when WNBA All-Star Sabrina Ionescu’s Nike shoe launches this spring, adult sizes will go for $125, a higher price point than signature shoes from NBA stars Jayson Tatum and Ja Morant.

Related Articles

Get the 5-minute news brief keeping 2.5M+ innovators in the loop. Always free. 100% fresh. No bullsh*t.