The 2017 Women's Final Four, hosted in Dallas for the first time, was a spectacular event on and off the court. South Carolina women's basketball won the program’s first national title, television ratings skyrocketed, and the Dallas community rallied behind the championship, resulting in sellout crowds and high participation in fan events.
“The 2017 Women’s Final Four provided some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport,” said Terry Gawlik, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator at the University of Wisconsin. “The two teams competing in the national championship were there for the first time. We all witnessed a hard-fought game between two incredible teams and coaches that ended with a first-time champion being crowned.”
Coached by Dawn Staley, South Carolina defeated Mississippi State 67-55 in the title game after beating Stanford in the national semifinal two nights earlier. Staley, a former point guard for Virginia from 1988 to 1992 and a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2013 member, guided South Carolina to a 33-4 overall record and an unblemished tournament run as the Gamecocks avenged their exit in last year’s Sweet Sixteen. South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson was named the Women’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player after a dominating two-game performance that included 23 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in the championship game.
For the first time since 2002, the Women’s Final Four games were played Friday and Sunday. The shift from the Sunday-Tuesday format used in past years was made to allow fans to attend all games without compromising work obligations. Both semifinal games and the national championship game were sold out before the weekend.
“In partnership with the Dallas Local Organizing Committee, we were able to deliver one of the best Women’s Final Fours in the event’s history,” said Anucha Browne, the NCAA vice president of women’s basketball championships. “I was overwhelmed by the support the Dallas community showed for our championship. The four teams enjoyed an amazing experience, and we all leave Dallas knowing that it was an experience not soon to be forgotten.”
The overall 2017 Division I women’s basketball tournament hosted 225,402 fans. The first- and second-round attendance increased by 4 percent from 2016, and the regional sites totaled 37,759 fans.
Broadcast and digital viewership
The national championship game between Mississippi State and South Carolina delivered a 2.4 overnight rating on ESPN, which is 20 percent higher than 2016 and the highest rating for a women’s national championship game since 2014. The championship game averaged a total live audience of nearly 3.89 million viewers, a three-year high and a 29 percent increase from 2016. The South Carolina victory April 2 was the most-streamed women’s national championship game ever with a streaming average audience of 59,500 viewers and a total of 211,000 viewers watching 8.2 million minutes.
The Women’s Final Four semifinal overnight ratings increased 7 percent from last year, making that session the most-streamed semifinal across all major metrics, including average minute audience, unique viewers and total minutes streamed. During the matchup between Mississippi State and UConn, fans streamed nearly 3 million minutes of the Bulldogs’ buzzer-beating win, up 19 percent from last season’s UConn semifinal. This was the most-watched semifinal game since 2013.
The three games averaged a 1.8 overnight, the highest in three years. This number is up 13 percent from 2016 and 6 percent from 2015. More than 4.5 million minutes of action were streamed per game, which is a Women’s Final Four record and is a 57 percent increase from 2016. The entire Women’s Final Four averaged a total live audience of 2.75 million viewers per game, the most watched Women’s Final Four since 2014.
Across all social media accounts, the official Women’s Final Four hashtag (#WFinalFour) was mentioned 19,600 times, with 210,600 engagements for a potential reach of 1.7 billion social media accounts. From a year ago, Facebook impressions were up 300 percent, the number of engagements were up 500 percent and the total video views were up 1,500 percent. Throughout the tournament, the Facebook following increased, on average, by 897 followers per day.
All four Women’s Final Four teams and ESPN studio host Maria Taylor collaborated with the NCAA Women’s Basketball Snapchat story. An estimated 400 snaps were included in the story throughout the Women’s Final Four, and the total impressions exceeded 440,000.
Fan events and participation
The 2017 Women’s Final Four marked the 36th year of the women’s basketball championship, and the Dallas community helped to provide a variety of fan events.
Over the course of two days, Tourney Town presented by Capital One recorded 12,177 attendees. On April 1, Jennifer Nettles of the country band Sugarland performed for Women’s Final Four ticket-holders.
In honor of the late North Carolina State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow, Tourney Town hosted special Play4Kay events to raise money and awareness for the foundation. Additionally, the first national free-throw contest took place throughout the 2016-17 women’s basketball season, and the winners competed at halftime of the first national semifinal game March 31. During the halftime competition, for every free throw made, special supporters John and Sue Gibbs donated $100 to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
The second Women’s Final Four 3v3 Tournament had 17 participating teams April 2. Two of the former women’s basketball players on the winning team played at Missouri, one at UC Santa Barbara and one at Texas.
The NCAA Team Works Legacy Project combined efforts with the Nancy Lieberman Foundation’s Dream Courts program, the Big 12 Conference, the WorldVentures Foundation and the Dallas Sports Commission to build an outdoor basketball court and refurbish the grounds at Arcadia Park in Dallas. The dedication ceremony was March 29.
Approximately 116 children ages 3-8 participated in the NCAA Youth Clinics on April 1. These clinics included conditioning, life skills and sport instruction from NCAA coaches and student-athletes. Each participant received a free T-shirt.
The Read to the Final Four program included 44 participating schools from the Dallas Independent School District as part of the NCAA Team Works community initiative. The students competed in a bracket-style competition, and schools advanced based on the number of minutes read. The top four schools were invited to a special celebration at Tourney Town on March 31 when the winning school and top reader were announced. The winning school received a $2,000 donation to refresh its library, among other gifts.
For the third year, the NCAA and its partners hosted several Beyond the Baseline events. More than 650 women attended the series, which provides exclusive networking opportunities to help celebrate women’s basketball and women’s advancement by joining an inspirational and motivating event.
The Recycle to the Final Four provided the opportunity for the Dallas community to contribute to the greening of the Women’s Final Four activities. In collaboration with the Dallas Local Organizing Committee, local schools, hotels and corporations, more than 235 pounds of recyclable materials were donated to Connor Sports for the manufacturing of the Women’s Final Four court.
“Dallas showed up this weekend for the first-ever Women’s Final Four played in the city and in return was treated to historic performances,” said Monica Paul, executive director of the Dallas Sports Commission. “It was an honor to host the marquee sporting event for the sport of women’s basketball and all the community initiatives, fan events and celebrations that make it about so much more than a game. This event, and all that it encompasses, was made a success through the contributions from the American Airlines Center, public safety officials, hundreds of volunteers and many others.”
Preparations have begun for the 2018 Women’s Final Four, which will be March 30 and April 1 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Full event information will be available soon at ncaa.com/womens-final-four.