The Oklahoma Sooners celebrating their 2023 NCAA national women's gymnastics title. Apr 15, 2023; Fort Worth, TX, USA; The University of Oklahoma Sooners celebrate with the trophy after winning the national championship at the NCAA Women’s National Gymnastics Tournament Championship at Dickies Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been quite the moment for NCAA women’s gymnastics. The sport posted significant audience growth all year, and that set up for a strong championships this past week, with ESPN announcing a 100 percent sellthrough for Saturday’s championship broadcast on ABC four days in advance (as part of an announcement of ESPN Events’ first-ever owned-and-operated gymnastics invitational, which will begin in January 2024). And the audience for that wound up being impressive, as ESPN announced Tuesday:

The reference to 2007 is notable. In that era, the championships were still broadcast by CBS, but on an extremely tape-delayed basis; they took place from April 26-28, but were broadcast by CBS on May 12. But that was an era where long tape delays were far more common and acceptable, and where audiences for many sports events were much higher. So the bigger thing here is not this number relative to what CBS did in 2007, but how this stacks up relative to recent years (where the final has been on ABC since 2020, and where this was a 10 percent growth over last year). And on that front, this is quite impressive, and speaks to why ESPN is investing in women’s gymnastics on the events side (with that invitational also set to be broadcast on ABC in both 2024 and 2025). Here’s some of what ESPN Events VP Clint Overby told AA on that front last week, citing the sport’s growing traction:

“It’s for all the right reasons. The sport continues to have great coverage on our air, its popularity continues to rise. It sits at the intersection for us between meeting the needs of intercollegiate athletes while serving sports fans. It serves so many positives for us. It’s a natural connection.”

…”We’ve seen it in softball, we’ve seen it in women’s basketball, we’ve seen it in women’s gymnastics. The more coverage we provide a particular sport or sport category, we’ve certainly seen the correlation in the audience finding it and growing with it.”

So these numbers for the championships will certainly help with that idea. And we’ll see how they carry forward into ESPN/ABC gymnastics viewership next year.

[ESPN PR on Twitter; photo of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrating their 2023 title from Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.