December 16, 2023
To say that the hits just keep on coming for women’s college volleyball in 2023 has gotten to be an understatement.
The national semifinal matches of the NCAA tournament that aired Thursday night on cable ESPN each eclipsed 1 million viewers, all-time highs, even as the final four at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, broke the attendance record for an indoor collegiate volleyball event with a crowd of 19,598.
Such metrics continue to demonstrate volleyball’s skyrocketing popularity among fans and TV viewers.
According to the Nielsen ratings reported by the Sports Media Watch site, the first national semifinal, won in three sets by Nebraska over Pitt, that started at 7 p.m. Eastern lured a total-average viewership of 1.097 million and a rating in the key 18-49 demo of .26. The nightcap, claimed in four sets by defending NCAA champion Texas over Wisconsin, that began at 9:31 p.m. Eastern and didn’t conclude until a few minutes before midnight, attracted 1.070 million viewers and an 18-49 rating of .24.
The Spoiler TV site noted that the NCAA volleyball matches finished 1-2 on the day among original programming on cable as ranked by the 18-49 demo. The 27-minute volleyball studio show that bridged the final four matches on ESPN saw 740,000 tune in and ranked seventh on the day on cable at .14 in 18-49.
In year-to-year comparisons with the national semifinals telecast on ESPN on Thursday, December 15, 2022, the early (Nebraska-Pitt) match showed a 49% increase in total-average viewership, and the late (Texas-Wisconsin) match was up 54.6%.
The final four showdowns generated the second- and third-largest audiences for live sports on Thursday on TV or streaming platforms. They trailed only the 7.983 million that watched the NFL game, in which the Las Vegas Raiders blew out the San Diego Chargers, on streaming Amazon Prime Video. The one-sided contest was the least-watched Thursday Night Football game of 2023. That might have been a boon to volleyball, which could have picked up some viewers who jumped ship. In a post on the X (formerly Twitter), ESPN noted that 49% of the volleyball audience was female, far higher than what typically is seen for live sports.
From the 518,000 who watched the record-shattering outdoor stadium match at Nebraska on Big Ten Network on August 30 to the 612,000 who tuned in to BTN on October 21 for…