ESPN netted an 8% gain in viewers for its coverage of the NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championship game on Tuesday night.
The compelling contest, Texas A&M defeated Notre Dame 76-70 in a hard-fought game that was decided in the last minute, garnered a 2.8 rating and 3.83 million viewers on April 5, according to Nielsen data, gains of 4% and 8%, respectively, over the 2.7 rating and 3.53 million who watched Connecticut repeat over Stanford in the 2010 title tilt. That was up 29% in ratings and 32% in viewership from Connecticut's win over Louisville in 2009, which yielded a 2.1 and 2.7 million. The 2008 championship game in which Tennessee defeated Stanford played before 3.9 million viewers.
Tuesday night's championship contest -- highlighted by the Aggies' Danielle Adams notching a game-high 30 points -- marked the first time since 1994 that the women's version of March Madness didn't feature a No. 1 seed, and many thought the ratings would suffer without such brand-name programs as UConn, Stanford, Tennessee and Baylor -- the top regional seeds in this year's event. (Tennessee and Baylor were dispatched in the regional finals by ND and Texas A&M, respectively.)
"We were very pleased with the NCAA championship game rating," said Carol Stiff, ESPN vice president, programming and acquisitions. "The title game between Notre Dame and Texas A&M reflected the strength and talents of the No. 2 seeds advancing, and gave the viewers a competitive, compelling and entertaining basketball game to watch."
It was a mixed bag for ESPN during the Final Four from Indianapolis on April 3. In the first national semifinal, Texas A&M-Stanford scored a 1.9 rating and 2.53 million watchers, up 12% and 13% over the 1.7 and 2.24 million for Oklahoma-Stanford in 2010. The nightcap saw a drop with ND-UConn averaging a 2.4 and 3.27 million viewers down 14% and 13% from the 2.8 and 3.77 million for UConn-Baylor. The two Final Four games averaged 2.9 million viewers, off 3% from 3 million in 2010.
Overall, viewership on ESPN increased 15% to 1.88 million people from 1.63 million 2010, with an 8% ratings gain to a 1.4 from a 1.3 over a dozen contests.
For its part, ESPN2 averaged a 0.4 U.S. rating and 495,000 viewers for its 16 tourney telecast windows, decreases of 20% and 24%, respectively from the 2010 event.
During the first two rounds, ESPN2 presented 48 games within 12 telecast windows in a whip-around format with home market protection, while pay-per-view package ESPN Full Court afforded full-game views. The final 15 games, beginning with the regional semifinals, aired in national windows on ESPN or ESPN2. In addition, ESPN3.com simulcast the entire championship and ESPNU provided full national telecasts of five early-round games.
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