Women’s March Madness championship teams are bringing home a W for gender equality once again this year — proving their worth with viewer and sponsor support.
Women’s athletics programs have been underfunded and undervalued for their entire history — and that’s not just a hot take. A 2021 gender equity review of the NCAA showed damning evidence of the inequities facing student athletes.
The review included proof that the NCAA spends more money on male student athletes than female student athletes; did not consider women’s athletics to be “revenue-producing;” and limits marketing funds for women’s athletic teams (thus impacting the ability of women’s teams to even generate revenue).
The findings made way for equal treatment at last year’s March Madness tournaments, where both men’s and women’s teams were treated with the same branding. And in 2022, with no more “Men’s March Madness” or “Women’s March Madness,” women’s teams finally had the opportunity to thrive.
In 2022, nearly five million viewers tuned into the final game, which was the most-watched college women’s basketball game since 2004, and the women’s games also set new attendance and apparel sales records.
It’s almost like when people know about women’s sports, they’ll be excited to support women’s sports.
This year, those records have already been broken.
Already, regular season TV viewership of the games has increased 11% from last year, and broadcasters are airing women’s games on well-known TV channels during prime times.
What is the good news for women’s sports?
Aside from the moral implications of investing in equitable treatment of athletes of all genders, these record-breaking turnouts for women’s basketball bust the myth that no one cares about women’s sports.
And it means they’re getting sponsors, too. ESPN sold its full advertising inventory for women’s games this year, beating last year’s record of 14 broadcast sponsors and 22 advertisers, with 15 sponsors and nearly 100 advertisers for this season’s championship.
Now that college athletes can sign name, image, and likeness deals, too, individual women student athletes have gained priceless support from brand deals.
While broadcast giants like ESPN and ABC gain new revenue streams, the economic success of these teams leads to the equal and fair treatment of its players.
In fact, the NCAA has just approved more recommendations for gender equity reform, and although things are far from perfect, advocates continue to fight for equality in publicity rights and Title IX enforcement. And both big-name coaches and brands are backing these equity efforts, too.
Seeing as these championship teams will continue to bring in new fans, viewers, and sponsors, athletes are a few yards closer to the goal of closing the gender gap once and for all.