Nearly two million viewers tuned in to watch UConn edge Baylor in an instant classic on Monday night even while going up directly against the men's Elite Eight action.
The game averaged 1.7 million viewers and is the most-viewed game of the 2021 tournament, per ESPN. The contest was tight throughout with a championship feel and came down to a final, controversial play.
Baylor-UConn hits 10-year high
Baylor is the reigning national champion and the Huskies boast star freshman Paige Bueckers, a national player of the year finalist. After the 69-67 UConn win, seven points now separate the two programs over their nine total meetings, per ESPN Stats and Information.
It's the largest audience a game played before the Final Four has experienced in a decade. The 2011 Elite Eight meeting between Notre Dame and Tennessee averaged 1.75 million, which ranks 10th all-time in pre-Final Four game ratings, per Sports Media Watch.
That game was also played on a Monday night on ESPN, but the men's Elite Eight action finished the day prior. UConn vs. Baylor was up against the Oregon State vs. Houston matchup on CBS that averaged 5.92 million. The women's matchup had double the engagement on social that the men's games had, per analytics firm Zoomph.
Bueckers, UConn set Sweet 16 viewership mark
Viewership for the Sweet 16 round was up 66% overall 2013 with an average 915,000 viewers over eight games, per ESPN. The most-watched game was the first collegiate meeting between Bueckers and Iowa freshman Caitlin Clark, who led the nation in scoring at nearly 27 points per game.
UConn's win in the early afternoon ABC slot averaged 1.6 million viewers and is the second most-watched Sweet 16 game in tournament history, per ESPN. Bueckers and Clark are the two most exciting freshmen in a class full of talented freshmen.
The game directly after on ABC between Michigan and Baylor that went to overtime averaged 1.22 million viewers, per Sports Media Watch. There were 1.02 million viewers for South Carolina vs. Georgia Tech and 994,000 for Stanford vs. Missouri State. No 2019 Sweet 16 game hit 900,000 viewers.
The women's tournament is easier than ever to watch this year after ESPN announced it would air every game on either ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. In previous seasons, it has carried jump-around coverage and checked in on close games. Games returned to broadcast TV (ABC) for the first time since 1995.
The most-watched women's national championship game is UConn vs. Tennessee in 2004. It averaged 5.6 million viewers, per Sports Media Watch. The 2019 final between Baylor and Notre Dame averaged 3.7 million. Those games are on ESPN.
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