A Wisconsin-Nebraska NCAA volleyball clash. Oct 21, 2023; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers outside hitter Merritt Beason (13) and middle blocker Andi Jackson (15) go up to block Wisconsin Badgers outside hitter Sarah Franklin (13) during the fifth set at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

The most-watched volleyball match in Big Ten Network history, and the most-watched NCAA women’s volleyball regular-season match in history, took place Saturday. That would be the clash between the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers against the No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers, an 8 p.m. Eastern start. There, BTN averaged 612,000 viewers for Nebraska’s 25-22, 17-25, 20-25, 26-24, 15-13 victory.

As Jon Lewis notes at Sports Media Watch, that’s more than the previous BTN record of 587,000 for the same teams’ clash last year. It’s also more than the 518,000 TV viewers Nebraska drew for their August match against Omaha (a BTN non-conference record), which saw the Cornhuskers attract a record in-person crowd of 92,003 to Memorial Stadium.

This also beat its BTN lead-in, a Nebraska-Northwestern football clash (a 3:40 p.m. ET start, which the Huskers won 17-9 to improve to 4-3), which averaged 560,000 viewers. And it wasn’t far from the 684,000 for Illinois-Wisconsin (a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff) on FS1. Here’s more context from Lewis’ piece:

The new record is unlikely to last for long. FOX will carry a college volleyball match for the first time this coming weekend, airing Minnesota-Wisconsin immediately following its NFL coverage in much of the country on Sunday. (FOX will air Ohio State-Michigan prior to the NFL in markets receiving a late NFL game). In the same post-NFL window on FOX this past Sunday, PBA bowling averaged 1.19 million.

Keep in mind that college volleyball postseason matches have averaged larger audiences, including a seven figure audience for the 2021 national championship match.

BTN is now averaging 142,000 viewers for college volleyball this season, up 13%.

NCAA women’s volleyball does seem to be a sport on the rise. The championship will air on ABC for the first time this December (it had previously aired on ESPN), part of a wider move of some women’s sports events to ABC (and the ratings rewards that have been seen there). And those broadcast matches on Fox (which owns 61 percent of BTN) after NFL lead-ins should do great numbers. Those will be worth keeping an eye on as well.

[Sports Media Watch]

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.