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Record-setting 2019 tournament concludes with thrilling Women’s Final Four in Tampa

Championship crowds are highest in 15 years

Featuring its highest attendance in 15 years, the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship culminated April 7 at the Women’s Final Four in Tampa, Florida, with the Baylor Lady Bears hoisting the national championship trophy for the third time in that span.

Tampa Bay hosted the 2019 NCAA Women’s Final Four, marking the third time the area has welcomed women’s basketball student-athletes and fans. The weekend, marked by sellout crowds, featured well-attended fan and community events and another year of millions of TV viewers.

Both sessions — the semifinals Friday and the championship game Sunday — had sellout crowds in Amalie Arena, with a total of 40,189 fans. The championship game was attended by 20,127 people. Both attendance counts mark increases from the previous year. With this year’s totals, Tampa has welcomed more fans in Women’s Final Four history than any other city, with 123,039 fans attending the 2008, 2015 and 2019 Women’s Final Fours.

“The 2019 championship continued to showcase that the sport is growing in parity and support,” said Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president of women’s basketball. “Over the past few years, the women’s basketball community has increased its active involvement and support throughout the championship. The community demonstrated that ongoing engagement in Tampa Bay at some of our highest levels in over a decade, culminating with sold-out crowds and well-attended fan events. We are grateful to the Tampa Bay Local Organizing Committee for its hard work to bring yet another memorable experience to our student-athletes, schools and fans.”

In the first semifinal game April 5, Baylor defeated first-time Women’s Final Four participant Oregon 72-67. Baylor guard Chloe Jackson made a tie-breaking layup with 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and Baylor sealed the win with free throws by Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox. In the second semifinal game, Notre Dame secured its second straight trip to the national championship with a victory over UConn, though the Huskies led by 1 point at the half and later extended their lead to 9. Irish stars Brianna Turner and Arike Ogunbowale led a late surge before Notre Dame clinched the 81-76 win at the free-throw line.

In the national championship game, Baylor led by as many as 17 before Notre Dame rallied, tying the game in the fourth quarter. With 3.9 seconds left and the game tied at 80, Baylor’s Jackson, the tournament Most Outstanding Player, hit a crucial layup to put Baylor ahead, ultimately winning the game 82-81 for the Lady Bears and giving Baylor its third national championship.

“This year’s tournament was highlighted by close games and nail-biting finishes, and the Women’s Final Four semifinals and championship games were perfect illustrations of the excitement the sport brings,” said Rhonda Lundin Bennett, chair of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Nevada. “Women’s basketball student-athletes and coaches delivered spectacular performances on the sport’s biggest stage, and the committee applauds them for another terrific championship and season overall.”

Overall, the 2019 Division I women’s basketball tournament attracted 274,507 fans, an increase of more than 22,000 from the previous year. This marks the highest combined total attendance since 2004 and the ninth-highest combined attendance in tournament history. The four regional sites hosted a total of 64,723 fans, a 27 percent increase from the 2018 tournament.

To enable more fans to attend, the Women’s Final Four games moved to a Friday-Sunday format in 2017, a shift from the previous Sunday-Tuesday format. The change has proven successful, resulting in a third straight year of sellout crowds.

Broadcast and digital viewership

The national championship game between Notre Dame and Baylor peaked at a 3.4 overnight rating and averaged a 2.2 overnight rating, up 11 percent from 2018. The championship averaged more than 3.6 million viewers and peaked at 5.6 million in the final minutes of the game.

The first semifinal Friday, featuring Baylor and Oregon, averaged 1.49 million viewers, while the second semifinal, featuring Notre Dame and UConn, averaged 2.14 million, based on overnight ratings.

Ratings in local broadcast markets soared. In Connecticut, Hartford and New Haven averaged a 9.5 market rating for the semifinals and championship.

Total impressions on NCAA social media accounts during the Women’s Final Four increased 71 percent to 2.3 million. The NCAA increased its number of social media posts on women’s basketball accounts by 73 percent, leading to 2,400 new followers and bringing the total audience size for those accounts to 762,000.

Fan events and participation

Women’s basketball fans came out in droves to multiple fan events hosted throughout the weekend.

The official fan fest of the Women’s Final Four, Tourney Town presented by Capital One, recorded 22,255 visitors, averaging 7,400 visitors per day, an increase of approximately 1,500 visitors per day from last year. Programming included the Beyond the Baseline Lounge, now in its second year, which offered professional development and wellness advice to visitors.

The Super Saturday Concert presented by AT&T was hosted April 6 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and featured a performance by multiplatinum recording artist Gavin DeGraw, along with live-streamed coverage of the Division I Men’s Final Four semifinals. More than 4,000 people attended the event, which concluded with a fireworks show.

An estimated 2,225 youth registered to participate in the NCAA Bounce, sponsored by Buick.

Community impact

In partnership with the Nancy Lieberman Charities’ Dream Courts program, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and the University of South Florida, the NCAA refurbished an outdoor basketball court at Dowdell Middle School in Tampa. The dedication ceremony took place April 3, immediately followed by a shoot-around with the Boys and Girls Club and NBA Academy.

More than 150 students from the third to 11th grade participated in the NCAA Youth Clinics on April 6 inside Tourney Town presented by Capital One. The clinics included conditioning, life skills and sport instruction from NCAA coaches and student-athletes.

The Read to the Final Four program — offered by the NCAA in partnership with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, Hillsborough County Public Schools, myON and USF Athletics — is intended to inspire accelerated reading and increase classroom achievement for elementary students. The program consisted of a series of two-week challenges for Pre-K through 5th grade that culminated in a monthlong challenge for third graders in the Hillsborough County School District. Tampa Bay reached an unprecedented 150 schools and 91,000 students, setting a record of 10.8 million minutes read. More than 1,200 children representing the top classrooms were invited to a celebration at Tourney Town, where the challenge winners were announced.

“We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to host the premier women’s championship in our community for a third time,” said Claire Lessinger, executive director of the Women’s Final Four Tampa Bay Local Organizing Committee.  “We are also very proud of the role we helped play, alongside the NCAA, in rolling out the red carpet and elevating the student-athlete, fan and visitor experience.  It really is way more than three games and outside of the amazing match-ups in the Arena and the free, family-friendly ancillary events, the 2019 Women’s Final Four will always be remembered for the social and legacy initiatives that will continue to leave an everlasting impact and impression in our community.”

Preparations have begun for the 2020 Women’s Final Four, which will be April 3 and 5 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. Full event information will be available soon at ncaa.com/womens-final-four.