The Fandoms In Women’s College Basketball Helped Make History

For the first time ever, the women’s Final Four championship had more viewers than the men’s.

South Carolina Gamecocks Coach Dawn Staley at the 2024 women’s final four championship game.
Thien-An Truong/ISI Photos/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Hoops fans have been feeling the hype around women’s basketball all season, and this week that growing momentum made history. For the first time, the women’s college basketball championship drew more viewers than the men’s.

Sunday’s championship game between the top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks, coached by Dawn Staley, and the Caitlin Clark-led Iowa Hawkeyes drew a record 18.9 million viewers, peaking at 24.1 million. The men’s final on Monday night, between Connecticut and Purdue, averaged 14.8 million viewers.

Viewership for the women’s game increased 90% from 2023’s championship — between Iowa and Angel Reese’s LSU — and a whopping 289% from 2022. The spike is primarily attributed to new need-to-know household names, such as Clark.

In case you’re new to the hype: At 22, she’s already regarded as one of the greatest players in college basketball history, male or female. She’s broken a slew of records throughout her senior year, and has a massive fandom rallying behind her, including celebrities such as Jason Sudeikis.

Clark (right) shooting over South Carolina’s Bree Hall in Sunday’s championship game.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Her seat-selling impact is the latest example of the fangirl economy.

It’s no secret that artists like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are moving merch and dollars, thanks to the millions of fans who shell out to see their shows. Within the sports world, Clark has a similar stronghold. She played almost the entire season to sold-out arenas.

Take it from 13-year-old Caitlyn, who traveled from Orange County, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, to watch the Women’s Final Four. She started following Iowa about two years ago because of “how amazing” Clark is, she tells Bustle. “My basketball teammates, they all know of her and watch her. And we’ll text each other, ‘She’s playing. Oh my gosh.’”

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Her father, Jesus, tells Bustle he started to notice Clark’s national fandom at last year’s Final Four in Dallas, Texas, which happened to coincide with another fangirl sensation: Swift’s Eras Tour. (He saved up Marriott Bonvoy loyalty points to attend both Final Fours, which were offered through the brand’s “Moments” initiative.)

“We were right at the center of it,” he says of 2023’s championship. “It was awesome, because we were in Dallas, Taylor Swift was in town, and Caitlin Clark was in town.” And yes, Clark is a big-time Swiftie.

On Monday night, Clark is expected to be the first overall draft pick to the WNBA, which is also gearing up for its biggest season ever. Game on.

Additional reporting by Brianna Kovan.