The Much-Deserved Rise of NCAA Women's Basketball

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The TVs are often set to The Golf Channel at Smith & Berg Partners’ flagship office in Brentwood, but this month, all eyes are on NCAA women’s basketball. A perfect storm of star players, parity among top teams, and outstanding talent have propelled the league into the national spotlight — leading to a surge in viewership and advertisement prices that surpass previous years. While men’s college basketball will certainly have its annual share of excitement (and drama), read on and find out why the real hoopla this year is surrounding the women’s game.

Featured photo: Sporting News

The Caitlin Clark Phenomenon

Leading the charge is Iowa's Caitlin Clark, the sport's biggest star and a virtual lock for National Player of the Year honors. The junior guard has been drawing sellout crowds and eye-popping TV ratings with her mesmerizing offensive skill set and flair for the spectacular. With her preternatural shooting range and court vision, Clark has opponents dizzy trying to account for her at all times.

Photo: CNN

Remarkable Talent Across the Nation

But Clark is just one part of what's making this season so captivating. The talent and competitiveness across the nation has risen to incredible heights. On any given night, a handful of teams look capable of winning the national championship in early April. Powerhouses like South Carolina, Stanford, and UConn always loom large. But programs like LSU, Indiana, and Utah have emerged as legitimate title contenders, too.

Conferences Reaching New Peaks

The increased parity means more meaningful games in the regular season and conference tournaments. Just look at the Pac-12, arguably the deepest league, where essentially every matchup feels like a prize fight. Fan interest has skyrocketed accordingly, with arenas packed and TV viewership soaring.

Photo: USC

Athleticism & Starpower on Full Display

Die-hard fans and newly minted enthusiasts are appreciating the sheer caliber of play. Standouts like USC's Juju Watkins and LSU's Angel Reese provide must-see TV with their athletic brilliance and flair. Even the old guard isn't being overshadowed, as Stanford's Tara VanDerveer eclipsed Duke's Mike Krzyzewski this season as the all-time winningest coach across both men's and women's basketball.

Visibility & Viewership Hitting New Heights

Interest in women's sports is soaring at a meteoric pace across the board. This season, FOX experienced a remarkable 48% increase in women's basketball TV ratings. And according to Nielsen, the 2023 NCAA Women's Basketball championship game between Iowa and LSU drew nearly 10 million viewers — a staggering 103% increase from the previous year. Talk about a rise in popularity. 

Photo: GQ

Booming Business Opportunities

The talent has translated into business, too. Top players like Clark, Reese, and Watkins have cashed in via lucrative Name, Image, and Likeness deals with major brands like Nike and Gatorade. Meanwhile, premium tickets for marquee games and conference tournaments have become astonishingly scarce and expensive.

As March Madness looms, the women's tournament has more buzz than ever before. A potential clash between Clark's Iowa squad and Reese's LSU team, or a rematch with unbeaten South Carolina, has fans (including us) salivating. Whichever program ultimately cuts down the nets, one thing is clear: the sport's amazing rise promises an unforgettable NCAA Tournament.

Want to chat all things March Madness? DM us on Instagram @smithandberg

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