While Men’s March Madness is more widely recognized, the women’s tournament is growing

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Alivia Romaniuk

Arguably one of the most prominent and widely recognized tournaments in American sports, the men’s March Madness tournament is happening now, with millions of fans tuning in to see their favorite teams in action. In 2021, CBS Sports reported that the championship game between Baylor and Gonzaga averaged 16.9 million viewers. Additionally, 16.2 million brackets were submitted to the ESPN 2021 Men’s Tournament Challenge.

Women’s March Madness seldom receives the same level of attention. The 2021 championship game between Stanford and Arizona attracted an average of 4 million viewers on ESPN, less than a quarter of the men’s audience. During the 2021 tournament, a member of the Oregon women’s basketball team posted a TikTok that revealed the differences between the men’s and women’s weight rooms. The video went viral and brought nationwide awareness to the inequalities between the two tournaments. 

Male athletes often enjoy the best of what sports have to offer, while female athletes compete in front of smaller audiences and are featured less prominently in the press. However, this trend has seen dramatic declines in certain sports. The 2001 U.S. Open women’s final was a major turning point for women’s tennis. The match was between Venus and Serena Williams — the first time the pair ever played each other in a major final. It was rescheduled for prime time–an anomaly at the time for women’s tennis, and was watched by 23 million TV viewers, according to the Women’s Tennis Association. 

In addition, the members of the U.S. women’s soccer team recently settled their equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for $24 million. The USSF also agreed to pay equal salaires moving forward for the men’s and women’s national teams, according to ESPN. The lawsuit lasted several years and placed the spotlight on star players from the women’s team, including Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan. 

The Williams sisters and the women’s national soccer team made groundbreaking advancements in women’s sports. The widespread recognition that these athletes received allowed them to inspire future generations of female athletes. 

While there is room to grow in Women’s March Madness, the tournament has already made leaps and bounds. The 2021 championship game was the most watched final since 2014, peaking at 5.9 million viewers. In addition, ESPN reported that the women’s tournament saw the most-viewed Final Four weekend since 2012, and the most-viewed Sweet Sixteen since 2013. 

Female athletes are used to being underrepresented in sports coverage. However, recent events have brought light to exceptional female athletes, fostering interest in their respective sports. As Women’s March Madness continues to grow, society should embrace and celebrate the star players that make up its core, giving them the recognition and credit they deserve. 

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