It was a record-setting weekend, both on and off the court, at the 2016 Women’s Final Four hosted in Indianapolis, as well as for the entire NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.
The University of Connecticut Huskies won a fourth consecutive national championship – a first-time occurrence in Division I women’s basketball. With an 82-51 defeat of Syracuse University, UConn earned its 11th title, tying the University of California, Los Angeles, men’s basketball team’s all-time mark for Division I championships. The UConn title also made Geno Auriemma the only Division I basketball coach in history with 11 championships, passing UCLA men’s coach John Wooden. UConn’s Breanna Stewart also set a collegiate basketball record by being named the Women’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player for the fourth consecutive year.
For the first time in the 35 years of NCAA women’s basketball, all three divisions played their championship game in the same location during a two-day period. In Division II, Lubbock Christian University defeated the University of Alaska Anchorage, 78-73. In Division III, Thomas More College defeated Tufts University, 63-51. This was another landmark event with all three women’s basketball champions finishing their seasons undefeated for only the third time in the sport’s history.
The Women’s Final Four attendance totaled 29,741. The national championship game attracted 14,514 fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The overall 2016 Division I women’s basketball tournament hosted 224,189 fans. The first and second rounds of the championship totaled 142,860 fans. The regional sites totaled 51,588 fans – 2,000 more than attended the 2015 regionals.
“I felt that we were able to deliver on a special celebration around the 35th anniversary of NCAA women’s basketball,” said Anucha Browne, the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball championships. “Never before in our history have we had the opportunity to crown three divisional champions during a two-day period in the same city and same building like we accomplished this year. The feedback from having all three championships played together has been overwhelming. Congratulations to UConn, Lubbock Christian and Thomas More on earning national championships this week in Indianapolis. For all who participated in the games and many ancillary events, we hope you left feeling like winners as well.”
Nearly 129,000 unique viewers turned to WatchESPN for the traditional telecast of the championship game, up 44 percent from the previous year. Those fans generated 4.5 million live minutes viewed, a 53 percent increase from 2015. The average Women’s Final Four game on WatchESPN experienced a 40 percent increase in average minute audience, a 29 percent increase in total unique viewers and a 41 percent increase in total minutes viewed compared to last year’s championship weekend.
For the entire tournament, there were 36.7 million live minutes viewed, up 31 percent from the 2015 tournament.
The women’s basketball tournament grossed a total of 23.2 million social impressions across Facebook and Twitter – a 63 percent increase over 2015. Total fan engagement increased 59 percent from 2015 and the audience grew by 68,147 (a 640 percent increase year over year). The Women’s Final Four week alone delivered 382 posts (a 40 percent increase year over year) for a total of 10.5 million social impressions (a 64 percent increase year over year) across Twitter and Facebook. The platforms also set single-day impressions records (3.72 million) on April 5. The women’s basketball Twitter account more than doubled in size from 41,847 followers before March 14 to 102,434 followers at the conclusion of the championship game on April 5.
Facebook live broadcasts were a new element of the coverage this year. The NCAA completed 13 live broadcasts during Women’s Final Four weekend, reaching more than one million Facebook accounts and garnering more than 93,000 viewers who watched for an extended period of time.
“There were many great moments in the 2016 tournament, with outstanding individual and team performances, great crowds and new teams emerging as national contenders,” said Chris Dawson, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Sport Committee and associate commissioner at the Pac-12 Conference. “As expected, Indianapolis was a great site for the Women's Final Four and it was fitting that UConn's historic performance in the championship game happened in a state that reveres the sport.”
Fan events and participation
Women’s Final Four week included a variety of fan events.
Over the course of three days, Tourney Town presented by Capital One recorded 21,923 attendees. The opening night, Friday, April 1, included the first ever Hoops Meets Heels Fashion Show, followed by a concert from hip-hop performing artists Salt-N-Pepa. The free events attracted almost 7,000 attendees.
Approximately 2,000 adolescents, along with additional parents and guardians, participated in the NCAA Bounce fueled by POWERADE on Saturday, April 2, receiving T-shirts and basketballs.
More than 5,000 fans attended Super Saturday, viewing the four teams’ open practices and the team autograph sessions presented by AT&T.
In honor of the late North Carolina State University women's basketball coach Kay Yow, more than 800 runners participated in the 4Kay 5K Run on Saturday, April 2.
The inaugural Women’s Final Four 3v3 Tournament had 22 participating teams on Sunday, April 3. The winning team consisted of two former women’s basketball players from the University of Notre Dame, one from Quinnipiac University and one from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The NCAA Team Works Legacy Project combined efforts with the Nancy Lieberman Foundation’s Dream Courts program to build an outdoor basketball court and refurbish the grounds at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Indianapolis. The dedication ceremony was held on Monday, April 4, on the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s speech at the park on the day of King’s assassination.
Approximately 775 youth participated in the POWERADE NCAA Youth Clinics during the Women’s Final Four at various locations in the Indianapolis area. Children ages 3 to 8 received sport instruction from NCAA coaches and student-athletes as well as free T-shirts and other promotional items.
Roughly 2,000 third-graders participated in the Read to the Final Four program, as part of the NCAA Team Works community initiative. The students each pledged to read at least 30 books in advance of the Women’s Final Four. Those who successfully completed the program were rewarded with an invitation to the NCAA Women’s Final Four events, including tickets to the game.
The NCAA and its partners hosted the inaugural Beyond the Baseline: Advancing Women Summit from April 1-5. More than 500 women attended the summit, where various professional development and networking events were conducted to celebrate women’s basketball and women’s advancement.
In collaboration with the Indianapolis Local Organizing Committee, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the NCAA also engaged in several sustainability initiatives. One of those included partnering with Dress for Success. Over 750 items were collected for Dress for Success, whose mission is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support and professional attire and by developing tools to help women thrive in work and life. In addition, more than 150 recycling bins were added to Bankers Life Fieldhouse and around ancillary NCAA events. A sustainability education center was also set up inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Volunteers in the Indianapolis area were integral to the success of the 2016 Women’s Final Four. Nearly 1,000 volunteers worked an estimated 17,548 hours over more than 2,300 shifts while filling in a variety of capacities.
"Indianapolis rolled out the red carpet for women’s college basketball this week and in return was treated to history-making performances,” said Ryan Vaughn, Indiana Sports Corp president. “It was such a treat to host not only the NCAA’s Division I Women’s Final Four teams but our new friends from Texas, Alaska, Kentucky and Massachusetts in Divisions II and III. Thanks to the NCAA for selecting Indianapolis for the 35th anniversary celebration of the women’s college basketball championship and for continuing to support our city with these championships. We’re so grateful to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, public safety officials, hundreds of volunteers and many other partners who all contributed so much to make this weekend such a success."
Preparations have now begun for the 2017 Women’s Final Four, which will be held March 31 and April 2 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Full event information will soon be available at http://www.ncaa.com/womens-final-four.