Increase in women’s basketball popularity leading to big branding changes
By: Eliana Detata
March 27, 2023
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Over the last couple of years, there have been major advances in women’s basketball. The 2023 NCAA tournament marks the second year that the women’s tournament is branded under the NCAA's iconic "March Madness." As a result, women’s basketball has received more recognition and marketing opportunities.
Lynn Holzman, NCAA Vice President of Women’s Basketball, said, “Women’s basketball has grown tremendously over the past several years, and we remain focused on our priority of enhancing and growing the game.” With the NCAA women’s tournament being televised on ESPN, fan interest is stronger than ever and all advertisements are sold out.
Another new development this year is the broadcasting of the women's March Madness championship as well as five other games on national television (ABC). This continues to advance the tournament, giving it more opportunities to be seen and gain popularity.
According to AP U.S. News, this year, the first two rounds of Women’s March Madness had viewership rates up 28% from 2022, combined with an average audience of 391,000. This trend will likely continue, as the national television appearances in between the men’s games will give viewers reasons to watch. Public involvement has increased in the women’s tournament this year as well, stemming from social media interactions and creating online brackets.
By the fall, the NCAA will decide if the women’s tournament will become a separate entity from other NCAA championships, similar to the men’s basketball and football championship structure.
There are also some new changes arising in the NCAA. In their Transformation Committee Report released earlier this year, the committee is asking the NCAA Division I Board of Directors to divide the revenue from the distribution program into more sports than just men’s basketball.
This revenue distribution program, called the Basketball Performance Fund, gives money to men’s basketball conferences every time a team from that conference appears in a game in the NCAA tournament. In 2022, the total amount of this fund was $169,443,000. This program does not currently exist in women’s basketball, leading colleges to focus on the success of the men’s teams in order to receive revenue for their wins.
We don’t know how this would play out, but it all has to do with what will happen with the NCAA’s deal with ESPN coming to an end. Once the NCAA begins to look for other offers after the deal is over in 2024, there will be more information as to how much the women’s tournament could be worth. The women’s tournament broke viewing records in 2022, and it is almost certain that viewership is continuing to increase this March.
The Kaplan report discussed how revenue distribution could be possible. It discussed phasing the women’s basketball performance fund over 10 years. In the first year, 95% of money will go to men’s basketball, and 5% will go to women’s basketball based on success. The gap will continue to close until there is an equal split of the performance fund between men’s and women’s basketball.
The purpose of this would be to give schools a reason to not only further their men’s basketball programs, but their women’s programs as well. The game will continue to grow, and women’s sports will continue to gain popularity and get within the reach of the general public. With an equal distribution of revenue, there is now an incentive. Schools will now begin to invest in both programs, and stop dedicating the majority of their funds to the men’s basketball program.