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By Kristen Leigh Porter
What started in October at practices in college gyms throughout the country concluded Tuesday night in Denver with the 40-0 Baylor women’s basketball team cutting down the nets at the NCAA Women’s Final Four. Buoyed by sell-out crowds at the Pepsi Center and an increase in ESPN viewers compared to last season, the 2012 edition of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship drew praise from Greg Christopher, chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee.
“This has been a fantastic season of women’s college basketball and the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship was no exception,” said Christopher, director of intercollegiate athletics at Bowling Green State. “The 2012 NCAA Women’s Final Four featured some of the top student-athletes and coaches in the game. It was a great event, and I want to personally thank the host city of Denver, the local organizing committee, NCAA staff, ESPN, volunteers and fans for contributing to this amazing finale for women’s college basketball.”
All three games were sellouts, with 19,028 in attendance for the national semifinal games on April 1 and the national championship game on April 3.
There were 570 members of the media credentialed for NCAA Women’s Final Four, which was televised on ESPN and ESPN3. Westwood One Sports provided radio coverage of the event, with the broadcast reaching 250 stations around the country as well as Sirius and XM satellite radio.
High numbers of spectators and viewers watched Baylor take home its second title.
Baylor’s 80-61 victory over Notre Dame Tuesday averaged a 3.2 rating and 4,244,000 viewers on ESPN, making it the network’s highest-rated and most-viewed championship since Connecticut beat Tennessee 70-61 in 2004. That match-up featured a 4.3 rating and 5,583,000 viewers. This year’s telecast also boasted a 14-percent increase in ratings and 11-percent increase in viewership from 2011, besting those marks of 2.8 and 3,831,000, respectively.
Sunday’s opening semifinal between Connecticut and Notre Dame delivered a 1.8 overnight rating, up six percent from last year’s first semifinal game between Texas A&M and Baylor. The second semifinal game pitting Stanford against Baylor registered a 2.2 overnight rating equal to last year’s Notre Dame vs. Connecticut semifinal.
Doris Burke, who competed in the NCAA Tournament as a student-athlete at Providence College, called the games for ESPN along with Dave O’Brien.
“The neat thing for me – and I’ve been in the business 22 years – is the evolution from my playing days where the only people in the gym were your family, friends and maybe a boyfriend,” Burke said. “We’ve come such a long way: an advance sellout, such real passion and the ratings on ESPN have been just tremendous.”
“Just to watch the casual sports fan sit up and take notice, particularly when the Final Four is played at such a high level, can only help the sport. It’s really been a privilege for me to be around.”
ESPN’s Carol Stiff said the network continually looks to give more exposure to the game of women’s basketball, as evidenced by the content on its various platforms including espnW.com, ESPN.com, ESPNEWS, WatchESPN and ESPN International. ESPN3 had a 16-percent increase in viewers from last season, while espnW.com averaged 300,000 daily unique visitors.
The network’s vice president of programming and acquisitions, was a basketball student-athlete at Southern Connecticut State, an assistant coach at both Brown University and Western Connecticut State and head coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“Our mission is to serve our fans so the addition of WatchESPN this year – which is the ability to stream all the games on your laptop or on your iPhone – allowed fans to be wherever they wanted to be and see the games,” Stiff said. “We also had them embedded on the team pages this year. As new technology evolves, we’re going to be there.”
The games weren’t the only big draw in Denver.
Inside the arena wasn't the only place for fans to show their school spirit.
Friday’s Mile High Magic Salute Premiere drew 1,456, an all-time record. In addition, 7,917 fans attended the open practices, autograph sessions, Battle of the Bands and WBCA High School All-America Game during Super Saturday at the Pepsi Center.
In all, Tourney Town™ Refreshed by Coca-Cola Zero™ attracted 23,446 fans to the Colorado Convention Center over three days, including nearly 3,000 fans for the Jewel concert on Saturday. POWERADE® NCAA Youth Clinics held over three days at Tourney Town or ThunderRidge and Denver South high schools combined for 744 participants, while Saturday’s 4Kay Run had 927 racers and Sunday’s Mile High Dribble had 1,571 dribblers.
Tiffany Hoambrecker, executive director of the Denver Local Organizing Committee, said putting on an event of the magnitude of an NCAA Women’s Final Four would not be possible without the hard work of the committee and community leaders starting in 2008 along with nearly 1,000 volunteers who began work on March 23. She estimated that 250,000 hours have been spent since 2008 when the initial bid was put together.
“It’s great to see it all come to fruition and see Denver showcased in the national spotlight,” she said.” I think that our packed and sold-out arena goes to show that we’ve done our job and hopefully the fans who have come to visit have enjoyed Denver.”
In addition, 1,192 people had a hand in the event from in-game management and operations to ancillary event management.
Preparation for the 2013 Women's Final Four, which will be held in New Orleans, have been underway.
With many stars of the women’s game set to return next season, including 2012 Most Outstanding Player Brittney Griner, the road to New Orleans Arena for the 2013 Women’s Final Four April 7 and 9 should be exciting for all. Preparations for the event are well underway according to Tina Krah, NCAA director of the Division I Women's Basketball Championship.
“As always, we look to make each NCAA Women’s Final Four a top-notch experience for everyone, including our student-athletes, coaches and fans,” Krah said. “No doubt the city of New Orleans will prove to be a phenomenal host, as evidenced by the recent success of the NCAA Men’s Final Four, which wrapped up on Monday night. Every event is special, and we work hard to make sure each is better than the last.”
The Road to New Orleans™ will open next year on March 23-24 with first- and second-round games in Baton Rouge, La.; Boulder, Colo.; College Park, Md.; College Station, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Durham, N.C.; Iowa City, Iowa; Knoxville, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; Lubbock, Texas; Newark, Del.; Queens, N.Y.; Spokane, Wash.; Stanford, Calif.; Storrs, Conn. and Waco, Texas. Regional sites are Norfolk, Va.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Spokane and Trenton, N.J. Tickets for all preliminary round sites and the Women’s Final Four will be available at NCAA.com/tickets.