The NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship match this past Saturday was a record setter on two fronts.
Not only was the crowd of 18,755 in Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, the largest of all time as Wisconsin beat Nebraska in a grueling five-set battle that lasted more than three hours, the ESPN2 audience of 1,188,000 was the most-viewed college volleyball match ever on ESPN networks.
And that was without YouTube TV watchers. Disney (which owns ESPN) and YouTube TV couldn’t come to terms last weekend and that left YouTube subscribers without ESPN and its family of networks.
In the case of this past week, Thursday’s semifinals were not sold out and viewership on ESPN (both matches were on the main network) totaled 728,000 according to ESPN. Still, that represented an increase of 50 percent from last spring and a 20-percent increase from 2019. In the semifinals, Wisconsin beat Louisville and then Nebraska beat Pittsburgh in a match that ended near 1 a.m. Eastern.
Saturday’s championship match was played between the two schools with fervent fan bases that lead the nation in attendance. During the regular season, the match between Wisconsin and Nebraska on November 26 drew 375,000 viewers, the most-watched volleyball match in Big Ten Network history.
The numbers certainly show great interest in women’s volleyball, especially compared to viewership last spring. There is a likelihood that there was also continuation of Olympic excitement after the USA won the women’s gold medal for the first time.
Last spring, the first time the NCAA women’s tournament was not conducted in the fall, Kentucky beat Washington in one semifinal, Texas beat Wisconsin in the other, and then Kentucky beat Texas in the championship match.
The spring championship match drew 696,00 viewers on ESPN2.
For comparison, here are the viewing totals, provided by ESPN, for the last seven finals. All were shown on ESPN2 and the 2017 final was also shown on ESPNU:
2015 — Nebraska vs. Texas, 820,000
2016 — Stanford vs. Texas, 576,000
2017 — Nebraska vs. Florida, 863,000
2018 — Stanford vs. Nebraska, 953,000
2019 — Stanford vs. Wisconsin, 542,000
2020 (April 24, 2021) — Kentucky vs. Texas, 696,000
2021 — Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, 1,118,000