Iowa's Final Four win vs. UConn draws 14.2 million viewers for most-watched ESPN basketball game ever

Women's college basketball is so popular that its new TV viewership record couldn't stand for a week without being broken.

Iowa's Final Four win over UConn is the most-watched women’s college basketball game on record and ESPN's most-viewed basketball game of any kind after drawing 14.2 million viewers on Friday, the broadcaster announced Saturday.

Friday's blockbuster matchup with a controversial finish peaked at 17 million viewers, surpassing every NBA Finals and MLB World Series game last year. It was only topped by five college football games in 2023. Meanwhile, no Daytona 500 race or Masters Tournament final round has exceeded Friday's numbers since 2013. Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors beat Iowa vs. UConn with 18.59 million viewers, but it was aired on ABC.

The latest viewership numbers are a huge win for ESPN, which has held the rights to the women's tournament since 1996. The broadcaster introduced ESPN+ in 2018, and Iowa's win is now the most-viewed college event ever on the streaming platform.

The record-breaking game came just three days after Iowa's win over LSU in the Elite Eight became the most-viewed women's college basketball game ever, averaging 12.3 million viewers Monday night. It was a rematch of LSU's win over Iowa in the 2023 national championship game, which set the previous record of 9.9 million viewers. The most recent game between LSU and Iowa peaked at 16.1 million viewers to become ESPN's second-highest draw for a basketball game of any kind since 2012.

Iowa's Gabbie Marshall reacts after UConn's Aaliyah Edwards was called for an offensive foul during the final seconds of the second half of the NCAA Women's Final Four semifinals basketball game Friday, April 5, 2024, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Iowa's and UConn's Final Four matchup was a blockbuster game. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Friday night's contest soared even further, claiming the title for ESPN's second-most watched non-football telecast ever in addition to the highest audience for any basketball game on record. The 2014 FIFA World Cup between the USMNT and Portugal garnered 18.2 million viewers, which is a mark to beat for Sunday's championship game.

It's not hard to imagine that the Hawkeyes' upcoming title clash with the South Carolina Gamecocks will be another record-breaker. The storied rematch will pit Caitlin Clark and Iowa against an undefeated South Carolina team that's vastly different from the one that they defeated in the Final Four last year.

South Carolina has a strong audience of its own, drawing an audience of 7.1 million viewers for a dominant win over NC State in the Final Four. That game sits behind Iowa vs. UConn and a Virginia vs. Stanford game on CBS in 1992 that attracted 8.1 million viewers as the most-watched national semifinals on record.

The Gamecocks and Iowa will meet in the NCAA championship game on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC).