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Men Enjoy Women’s Game, Too Espn’s Tourney Coverage Finds Best Of Both Worlds

It’s rare these days to learn about a world where distinctions based on sex or race or religion are relatively unimportant.

Consider women’s college basketball.

Last year, ESPN signed a seven-year deal to televise the women’s NCAA Tournament as part of an attempt to appeal to more female viewers.

The ratings so far suggest that the move was wise, not because it attracted substantially more women viewers (it did, a little), but because it attracted “more college basketball fans” period, said ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz.

“Women’s basketball fans are not a specific demographic,” Krulewitz said. “If you like the college game, then generally speaking, you like both the men’s and women’s games. The game itself breaks down very similarly, in terms of men and women. There may be a fraction higher number of women watching the women’s games, but its not a substantially larger number.”

And the women’s games, especially the NCAA championship contest last year, are capable of putting up solid numbers. The 1996 game, Tennessee vs. Georgia, earned a 3.7 rating. Of the thousand or so college games, men’s and women’s, on ESPN since 1993, only one had a higher rating: Last year’s Big East championship game, in which Ray Allen of Connecticut hit a last-second jumper to beat Georgetown, featuring Allen Iverson. That had a 4.0 rating.

Numbers for this year’s tournament have not been released.

“What has been interesting to us is that it has been delivering a strong male audience,” said Krulewitz. “People automatically assume that just women would watch, and that has not been the case.”

But the big advertising dollars are still spent on the men’s game, and ESPN adjusts the women’s schedule to avoid conflicts with the men. So, Monday night, for instance, the women’s regional games were competing with the Oscars for viewers.

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