Women argue for tournament for their own March Madness TV deal

Women’s basketball seems to have found a winner with its new Sweet 16 format in March Madness and the timing couldn’t be better with television contract negotiations looming on the horizon.

There was record attendance at both venues – Greenville, South Carolina and Seattle – as well as record television ratings. That fueled momentum ahead of a star-studded Final Four lineup in Dallas.

NCAA Selection Committee Chair Lisa Peterson expects the success of the format to help in upcoming contract negotiations. NCAA TV’s current deal ends next summer.

“You have to,” she said. “I can’t wait to see these conversations. It can only be good for the game. People are talking about it. »

TV ratings for Friday and Saturday games averaged 1.2 million viewers, a 73% increase over last year. Saturday afternoon’s game between Ohio State and UConn on ABC was the most-watched women’s Sweet 16 game ever with an average of 2.4 million.

Ratings were also up for Sunday’s and Monday’s games on ESPN – up 43% and averaging 2.2 million. Sunday night’s Iowa-Louisville contest, which featured dynamic guard Caitlin Clark, paved the way for 2.5 million, making it the most-watched Elite Eight game on record.

Tag Garson, senior vice president of properties at Wasserman, said this year’s ratings will be one of many things that will factor into the path the NCAA takes.

“When you look at ratings performance as you prepare for a trade, you’re not just focusing on one year,” he said. “You look at historic value while projecting future value.”

The NCAA is expected to decide by this fall whether to separate the women’s tournament or keep it as part of the championship television package that includes at least 24 sports.

Peterson and his band will have a lot to review.

The Greenville and Seattle arenas were mostly full which created an entertaining atmosphere. While attendance was expected to be high in Greenville with the undefeated Gamecocks there. the closest team to Seattle was Colorado – 1,300 miles away.

Distance hasn’t stopped fans from flocking to Seattle, with strong support from the city’s basketball fans thanks in part to the WNBA’s Storm success over the past two decades. In the end, the Seattle area outperformed its South Carolina counterpart by a few thousand. A total of 82,275 fans attended the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games, including 43,556 in Seattle.

“It was a really great atmosphere to play. You like to play in that kind of atmosphere with that kind of audience and play in a big building like this,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, whose team played in Seattle.

The NCAA also hopes the success will lead to more cities bidding to host the regional games and possibly the Final Four.

“The number of cities that had bid (in the past), we didn’t have many more options,” Peterson said. “With the success we’ve had, hopefully this will open new doors so we don’t keep going to the same cities.”

Seattle’s local organizing committee said it expects the tournament to bring in more than $8.3 million for the city.

“When we do events like this, there’s no playbook to say it’s a guaranteed success,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell told The Associated Press. “You don’t know how the fans are going to come out, but what has been proven time and time again, especially around women’s sports, is that they come from all over the state and even from Canada. … The revenues are incredible for our tax base.

Harrell threw Seattle’s hat into the ring for a future Women’s Final Four, saying he wishes his city had that opportunity.

One of the next steps the NCAA is planning for the next two regional venues is to turn them into “mini Final Fours.”

Many fans seemed to enjoy the new format going to more than just their team’s matches. Pennsylvania native Dave Lichliter went to games Friday and Saturday and enjoyed the expanded field.

“You can see more teams,” said Lichliter, who wore a 2019 LSU championship football jersey. “Next year is Albany (New York) and Portland (Oregon), so we’ll see how It happens.”

The NCAA too.

The two-city format will be in place for at least three years. The next application cycle begins in July where regional accommodation will be decided from 2027-31.

“We do this for three years. It’s not a permanent deal,” Peterson said. “As always, we will assess him. If we think it’s not working, we’ll see what we need to do to change it. Whether it’s changing the format or adding a day, whatever that looks like, we’ll keep looking into it. »

There were a few logistical bumps with both sites.

With eight schools on one site, adjustments were necessary on the part of teams and arena staff. Field practice time has been reduced from 90 minutes to 60 minutes to allow for all eight field times. It also required a little more coordination in the locker room with teams having to overtake.

But none of that seems to bother players. Some said it felt like an AAU tournament from a young age with so many teams in one place.

“I think it’s fun. I think that’s cool,” Clark said, before the Hawkeyes guard added, “Obviously we’re not going to come to every game, that’s not really how it works, but I think I like both regional sites.”


AP sportswriters Tim Booth in Seattle, Pete Iacobelli in Greenville, SC, and Joe Reedy contributed to this story.


AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com /AP_Top25


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