Category: Discovery & Impact

Title: Can Women’s Basketball Sustain its March Madness Success? A Sports Management Professor Answers.

Women’s college basketball is entering a new era.

Powered by superstars like Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese, ticket prices to this year’s women’s tournament have eclipsed ticket prices for the men’s tournament. In this weekend’s women’s Final Four, ticket prices are more than double that of the men’s Final Four.

La Quita Frederick is the faculty director and an associate professor of the practice in the Sports Industry Management program in the School of Continuing Studies.

In the Elite Eight championship rematch between Iowa and Louisiana State University, a peak of 16 million fans tuned in as the Hawkeyes got their revenge over the Tigers, making it the most-watched college basketball game ever on ESPN platforms.

So how exactly has women’s basketball managed its meteoric ascent, especially since men’s basketball has typically received more resources and attention?

“There has been a continuous and concerted effort to promote and elevate women’s sports,” said La Quita Frederick, faculty director and associate professor of the practice in the Sports Industry Management program in the School of Continuing Studies. 

“Superstars like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese have undoubtedly captured the attention of fans with their exceptional skills and performances … This is not just an anomaly but rather the beginning of a new era,” Frederick said.

To better understand the rise of women’s basketball, read Frederick’s takes on women’s basketball’s March Madness success and how the sports industry can keep the momentum of women’s athletics going.

Ask a Professor: La Quita Frederick on March Madness, NIL and the Future of Women’s Sports


Historically, viewership and demand for women’s sports across all sports at the professional and college levels have been dwarfed by men’s sports. Why is that?

One key factor is that culturally competitive sports have been primarily associated with men which has shaped societal perceptions and expectations. Another key factor is that men’s sports have historically benefited from greater investment and infrastructure, including funding, facilities and support at various levels of competition. Additionally, men’s sports typically have received more airtime, resources and marketing efforts from major broadcasting networks and sports channels. As such, media coverage and exposure have played a significant role. This greater visibility has contributed to higher levels of interest and engagement among audiences. These key factors have collectively and cumulatively contributed to the disparity in viewership between men’s and women’s sports.

Above and beyond those key factors, competitive and organized women’s team sports such as basketball and soccer are still relatively young compared to their counterparts. After all, the NCAA was founded in 1906, the NFL in 1920, and the NBA in 1946. In 1972, Title IX federal legislation was a significant catalyst and turning point for women’s competitive sports at the college level. 

Nearly a decade later, in 1981, the NCAA and its governing body approved a plan to include women’s athletics programs and services for its membership. With a more institutional support and organizational structure, women’s sports and teams were established across the nation including the WNBA in 1996 — a full 50 years after the NBA and 15 after the NCAA officially included women’s collegiate athletics. Although 50 years in the making, the strategic efforts to promote gender equity and increase visibility for women’s sports are gradually narrowing the gap.

Sponsorship patterns and commercialization trends further reinforce this gap, with companies traditionally favoring men’s sports for investment due to perceived higher returns. Marketing strategies often align with traditional gender stereotypes, hindering the appeal and visibility of women’s sports. Access barriers, cultural representations and regional variations also contribute to disparities, alongside technological advancements that offer new avenues for promoting gender equity in sports viewership. Addressing these multifaceted factors requires sustained efforts to challenge existing norms, increase representation and leverage digital platforms to cultivate a more inclusive sports culture.

Why are more people watching women’s basketball this year than in years past? Is this year’s surge in popularity just an anomaly with superstars like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, or will this trend continue?

The increase in viewership for women’s basketball in recent years can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, there has been a continuous and concerted effort to promote and elevate women’s sports, resulting in greater visibility and coverage across various media platforms with social media by far being the most effective. This increased exposure has helped challenge stereotypes and showcase the high level of talent and competition in women’s basketball. 

Additionally, the growing success of women’s basketball programs, both at the collegiate and professional levels, has drawn more attention and interest from fans. Superstars like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese have undoubtedly captured the attention of fans with their exceptional skills and performances, generating excitement and enthusiasm for the sport. Additionally, these players have high profiles and very lucrative name, image, and likeness (NIL) that have given them additional exposure and visibility beyond your classic, niche women’s basketball fans, including national commercials, feature stories and guest appearances through mainstream medium outlets. 

This is not just an anomaly but rather the beginning of a new era. There is now greater investment and infrastructure, including funding, facilities and support at various levels of competition. In 2010, ESPNW was launched to encompass a website, signature events and specialty coverage for women sports. In 2022, the NCAA approved the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament to use the March Madness branding across the collegiate spectrum. At the professional level, the WNBA Las Vegas Aces are not only back-to-back WNBA Champions but the first WNBA franchise to have a dedicated headquarters, training facility and venue not shared with their NBA counterparts.  If women’s basketball continues to be prioritized and supported, the potential for the upward trajectory of the sport will continue in the coming years.

This is not just an anomaly but rather the beginning of a new era.

La Quita Frederick

Is women’s basketball seeing a surge in the U.S. mainly, or is this a growing global trend?

While the U.S. has traditionally been a powerhouse in women’s basketball, other countries around the world are increasingly investing in and developing their women’s basketball programs. After all, women’s basketball players have been playing professionally overseas in other leagues and during the offseason. Countries in Europe, Asia and Oceania, among others, have seen significant growth in women’s basketball participation, competition and fan engagement.

This global expansion is fueled by various factors, including increased opportunities for women athletes, greater investment in infrastructure and coaching, and growing recognition of the talent and competitiveness of women’s basketball. Therefore, while the surge in popularity may be particularly noticeable in the United States, it reflects a broader global trend towards greater recognition and appreciation of women’s basketball. Women’s sports, including women’s basketball, is on an upward trajectory.

Is this success in college women’s basketball being replicated in other sports? How?

The rising success and popularity of women’s college basketball are mirrored in various other sports, albeit through diverse channels and to varying extents. One significant factor contributing to this trend is the increased attention and media coverage given to women athletes across different sports. As women’s college basketball gains traction, other sports like soccer, volleyball, softball and gymnastics are also experiencing heightened visibility through expanded coverage by leagues, governing bodies and media outlets.

Moreover, the emergence of professional opportunities for women athletes is closely linked to their success in college sports. This progression creates a pathway for talented athletes to compete at the professional level, fostering growth and investment in professional leagues both domestically and internationally. Additionally, a broader cultural shift toward supporting women athletes and advocating for gender equity in sports has propelled the popularity of various women’s sports beyond college basketball. 

Digital platforms and social media have also played a pivotal role in amplifying the voices and achievements of women athletes across different sports, enabling them to engage directly with fans and build their personal brands. Furthermore, international success in global competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships has elevated the profiles of women’s teams and attracted attention to their respective sports on a global scale. 

How has NIL affected the popularity of women’s sports relative to men’s sports?

NIL has the potential to significantly impact the popularity of women’s sports relative to men’s sports in several ways. First and foremost, NIL allows athletes, regardless of gender, to profit from their own name, image and likeness. This opens up new avenues for women athletes to monetize their talents and build their personal brands, which can enhance their visibility and attract more fans. However, the full impact of NIL on women’s sports popularity will depend on various factors, including the extent of endorsement opportunities, media coverage and continued efforts to promote gender equity in sports.

Moreover, NIL offers distinct advantages for women athletes and teams compared to their male counterparts. One key advantage is the opportunity for women athletes to build their personal brands independently, addressing historical disparities in media coverage and investment. Women dominate as consumers and strongly influence purchase decisions individually and collectively in their households. Through NIL, women athletes can showcase their personalities and interests, attracting endorsement deals that reflect their individual identities. 

Additionally, NIL empowers women’s sports by enabling athletes to generate revenue and support their athletic endeavors. By monetizing their talents, women athletes challenge stereotypes about the profitability of women’s sports and assert their economic agency. Furthermore, NIL can drive cultural change by reinforcing the value of women’s sports and promoting diversity and inclusion. 

On March 10, the Hoyas beat Creighton 55-46, advancing to the Big East championship game for the first time in the program’s history.

How do you feel personally about this surge in interest in women’s basketball?

Personally, I am loving it because I always knew the women’s game was competitive, entertaining and exceptionally talented. As an undergraduate at NC State University, my suitemates were women’s basketball players. I remember going to NC State women’s basketball games including games against our ACC opponents. 

When I still worked in college athletics, I oversaw the marketing for the NC State’s women’s basketball program. Not only was NC State a nationally ranked team with occasional sellouts long before the age of social media, streaming, etc., but they were coached by the legendary Naismith Hall of Fame and former Olympics Coach Kay Yow. It was my pleasure to work for them, and with them, including being the co-creator of Hoops for Hope, which is the direct predecessor for what is now known nationally as Play 4 Kay. 

When I worked for the Orlando Magic fresh out of graduate school, I also had the opportunity to work at the first-ever WNBA Draft Camp held at the ESPN Disney Wide World of Sports. I saw the first WNBA superstars like Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Cynthia Miller, etc., and some of them have gone on to coach. I have witnessed this “overnight” success story unfold over the past 25+ years. I was not a player or a coach but I was working behind the scenes of the business at every stage of women’s basketball growth both at the collegiate and professional levels of the game. Quite honestly, it is very special to me personally and professionally to have been a part of history in the making and knowing many of those and all of the efforts to arrive at this moment in time.

Who are you rooting for in the NCAA tournament?

Who am I rooting for?! That’s an easy answer. I am originally from North Carolina, so I was born and bred to love Tobacco Road basketball and all things ACC. More importantly, I am a proud graduate of NC State University and a former associate director of marketing for the NC State Department of Athletics, so I’m all in for my Wolfpack family given both our men’s and women’s basketball teams are in their respective Final Fours this year. As for me, I’m “Red & White for Life” so GO PACK, LIGHT IT RED, and WHY NOT US? Or rather, WHY NOT BOTH?