December 20, 2023
The landmark telecast on over-the-air ABC of the NCAA women’s volleyball championship match on an NFL Sunday afternoon established another record.
No surprise there, given a season-long trend of sensational TV ratings for the fast-rising sport. Nonetheless, a title tussle between Texas and Nebraska that gave the all-important casuals ample opportunity to tune out almost certainly left some viewers on the table.
In the first airing of an NCAA final on one of the major broadcast networks, the 2-hour, 30-minute show was watched by a total-average viewership of 1.691 million, according to the Nielsen ratings as reported by the Sports Media Watch site, the most ever for a college volleyball match.
That beat the record for volleyball of 1.659 million, a “blended” number reflecting two Big Ten matches that aired at different times regionally on Fox on October 29 and which had an NFL game as a lead-in.
The total audience recorded on Sunday in Tampa, Florida, in the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship was a 112% improvement over the 796,000 that watched the Texas-Louisville final in 2022 on cable ESPN2, and 551,000 viewers in the key 18-49 demographic represented a 93% year-over-year jump. The previous overall high for an NCAA title match was 1.188 million for Wisconsin-Nebraska in 2021 on ESPN2.
A particularly encouraging note for potential advertisers was that 51% of the TV audience on Sunday was female, a remarkable number for a live sports event. The typical breakdown on a broadcast channel is roughly 2-to-1 male.
So perhaps that 1.691 million number wasn’t so ho hum, after all. Have I mentioned that the record-breaking NCAA final encountered head-to-head competition from an NFL game that was watched by more than 23 million?
But, oh, what could have been if Nebraska had figured out a way to keep from getting served off the court by Texas in the last two lopsided sets of a sweep that provided scant incentive for casual viewers to stick around.
Two million: It was there for the taking
A viewership of 2 million for the volleyball championship was considered well within the realm of possibility, given that each of the NCAA semis on ESPN had hit seven figures, and the large and loyal fan bases of the finalists. But a non-competitive match tossed the broadcast a monkey wrench. Its peak quarter-hour did log 2.1 million viewers,…