Women's college basketball fans help make history

All season long, basketball fans have felt the hype surrounding women's basketball, and this week, that growing momentum made history. For the first time, the women's college basketball tournament drew more viewers than the men's tournament.

Sunday between the top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks, coached by Dawn Staley, and the Iowa Hawkeyes, coached by Caitlin Clark The championship game attracted a record audience of 18.9 million viewers, with a peak audience of 24.1 million. Monday night's men's final game between UConn and Purdue averaged 14.8 million viewers.

Ratings for the women's game were up 90% from the 2023 championship game (Iowa State and Angel Reese's LSU) and up 289% from 2022. This surge can be largely attributed to new household names like Clark.

If you're not familiar with the hype: The 22-year-old is already considered one of the greatest players in college basketball history, male or female. She broke a slew of records during her senior year and has a legion of fans, including celebrities like Jason Sudeikis.

Clark (right) shoots in the air during Sunday's championship game in Brighall, South Carolina. Gregory Shams/Getty Images Sports/Getty Images

Her seat-selling impact is the latest example of the fan economy.

It's no secret that artists like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are moving merchandise and money, thanks to millions of fans paying to attend their shows. In the sports world, Clark has a similar stronghold. She has sold out venues for nearly the entire season.

Take 13-year-old Caitlin, who traveled from Orange County, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio, to watch the women's Final Four. She told Bustle she started paying attention to Iowa about two years ago because of "how amazing" Clark is. "My basketball teammates all know her and follow her. We'll text each other, 'She's playing. Oh my god.'"

Matthew Holst/Getty Images Sports/Getty Images

Her father, Jesus, tells Bustle that he began to notice Clark's national fan base during last year's Final Four in Dallas, Texas, which coincided with another fan sensation: Swift's Time Tour will happen simultaneously. (He saved up Marriott Bonvoy loyalty points to attend two Final Four games, which are offered through the brand's "Moments" program.)

"We're right in the middle of things," he said of the 2023 championship. "It's great because we're in Dallas, Taylor Swift is in town, Kaitlynn Clark is in town." Yes, Clark is a great Swift.

On Monday night, Clark is expected to be the No. 1 draft pick in the WNBA, which is preparing for its biggest season ever. Games start.

Additional reporting by Brianna Kovan.