Iowa-LSU showdown draws record 12.3M viewers

Caitlin Clark, Iowa advance to Final Four in LSU rematch (3:02)

Scott Van Pelt recaps Iowa’s 94-87 win over LSU, highlighted by an astounding 41-point night from Caitlin Clark. (3:02)

  • ESPN News Services

Apr 2, 2024, 06:46 PM ET

Caitlin Clark can claim another record — the most watched women’s college basketball game in history.

Iowa’s 94-87 victory over LSU in the Elite Eight of the women’s NCAA tournament Monday night averaged 12.3 million viewers on ESPN, according to Nielsen. That makes it one of the most-viewed games in any sport other than NFL football over the past year.

Iowa-LSU outdrew all but one of the five games in last year’s NBA Finals, along with the clinching game of last year’s World Series (11.48 million).

Clark scored 41 points as the Hawkeyes avenged last year’s loss to the Tigers in the national championship game.

The viewership surpassed the 11.84 million who watched the 1983 NCAA championship game between Southern California and Louisiana Tech. LSU coach Kim Mulkey played for Louisiana Tech and was matched up against USC great Cheryl Miller in that game, which the Trojans won 64-58.

It was also the most watched men’s or women’s college basketball game ever on ESPN, more than doubling the prior largest audience.

According to ESPN, the 2002 women’s national championship game between UConn and Oklahoma had the old mark at 5.68 million. ESPN’s most watched men’s game was the 2008 regular-season matchup between Duke and North Carolina, which drew 5.61 million.

Only one men’s NCAA tournament game this year had bigger viewership: North Carolina State’s win over Duke on Sunday in the men’s Elite Eight on CBS averaged 15.1 million.

According to Sports Media Watch, it was the most viewed basketball game on ESPN since Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals, when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ victory over the Boston Celtics averaged 13.6 million.

UConn’s 80-73 win over USC, which was on after the Iowa game, was the second most watched college game in ESPN history at 6.7 million. ABC had both regional finals on Sunday, with South Carolina averaging 3.1 million in its win over Oregon State and North Carolina State drawing 2.5 million against Texas.

Clark’s four March Madness games on ESPN and ABC have averaged 6.83 million. Iowa will face UConn in Friday’s second national semifinal at the Women’s Final Four on ESPN. The winner will face either South Carolina or North Carolina State on Sunday. The national championship game will air on ABC.

The Hawkeyes’ 89-68 win over Colorado in Saturday’s regional semifinal averaged 6.9 million viewers on ABC.

Iowa’s past five televised games have surpassed 3 million viewers, including the past three that have drawn at least 4.9 million.

The 60 women’s tournament games are averaging 1.5 million, a 127% increase over last year.

LSU’s victory over UCLA on Saturday, which preceded the Iowa game, averaged 3.8 million, the second most watched Sweet 16 game on record.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to make the moment a movement,” said former Division I guard Isis Young, now a broadcaster and analyst. “Right now, women’s basketball is a movement … And the movement is really riding on the back of these players that we’re watching.”

And make no mistake: People were watching. Last year’s LSU-Iowa national championship game on ABC drew 9.9 million viewers. Monday’s LSU-Iowa rematch, on cable, crushed that number.

Baseball had a no-hitter Monday night; Ronel Blanco’s gem for Houston against Toronto didn’t seem to capture attention the way the women’s NCAA tournament doubleheader of Iowa-LSU and UConn-USC did. Phoenix’s Devin Booker scored 52 points, his league-high-tying third game of 50 or more this season, and it happened while fellow NBA guards Damian Lillard and Patrick Beverley were tweeting about freshman sensation JuJu Watkins and Clark.

“Caitlin Clark the truth,” offered New York Knicks forward Josh Hart.

It is a perfect storm. Even in defeat, LSU star Angel Reese understood the magnitude of the moment.

“I think it’s just great for the sport, just being able to be a part of history,” Reese said Monday night. “Like I said, no matter which way it went tonight, I know this was going to be a night for the ages. And just being able to be a part of history is great.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.