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Eight Out Of The Ten Most Followed Athletes In The Elite Eight Are Women Basketball Players

Growing up in Connecticut and rooting for UConn, women's basketball was just part of the state culture. Were they as popular as the men's team? No, but everyone knew Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, Renne Montgomery, etc. One of the biggest sports stories in the state I remember was Elena Delle Donne coming to Storrs and leaving campus before the season even started. 

Not every state is like Connecticut. No professional sports teams with a dominant basketball program that has seen 15 NCAA championships in the past 25 years. I don't have any data to back my hypothesis, but I assume that if you grew up in Connecticut and/or went to UConn you are much more likely to be a WNCAA and WNBA fan. 

All that being said, the growth of women's basketball is almost undeniable at this point. They are producing social media stars at a higher rate than college men's basketball. Who is the biggest star of March Madness this year? Jalen Suggs? Paige Bueckers from UConn has garnered more interest on Google and social media than him:

The top 10 combined followers of IG & Twitter of players remaining via Axios:

  1. Paige Bueckers, UConn: ~730k ($382k)
  2. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville: 696k ($965k)
  3. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga: 325k ($495k)
  4. Jaden Owens, Baylor: 295k ($310k)
  5. Zia Cooke, South Carolina: 206k ($178k)
  6. Cameron Brink, Stanford: 91k ($47k)
  7. Adrian Nunez, Michigan: 83k ($70k)
  8. Anna Wilson, Stanford: 80k ($41k)
  9. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, UConn: 77k ($30k)
  10. Brea Beal, South Carolina: 74k ($69k)

The dollar amount in the parenthesis is the player's "estimated annual earnings, provided to Axios by athlete marketing platform Opendorse."

This list above doesn't include TikTok followers, a place where Paige Bueckers has 240k followers:

https://www.tiktok.com/@paigebueckers/video/6944458900485704966?lang=en&iscopyurl=0&isfromwebapp=v3&senderdevice=pc&senderwebid=6925887855487944198

Jaden Owens has 80k, along with her teammate that has another 80k

https://www.tiktok.com/@jadenowens13/video/6944375512118611206?lang=en&iscopyurl=0&isfromwebapp=v3&senderdevice=pc&senderwebid=6925887855487944198

https://www.tiktok.com/@caitlinbickle/video/6942956938258943237?lang=en&iscopyurl=0&isfromwebapp=v3&senderdevice=pc&senderwebid=6925887855487944198

Coming in at 6th on that list is Cameron Brink, the Stanford freshman that grew up with Steph Curry as her godbrother. 

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The biggest star of the tournament has probably been Sedona Prince, the Oregon player who posted the viral TikTok of the women's "weight room." 

https://www.tiktok.com/@sedonerrr/video/6941180880127888646?lang=en&iscopyurl=0&isfromwebapp=v3&senderdevice=pc&senderwebid=6925887855487944198 

She has over a million followers on TikTok and 200k on IG.

https://www.tiktok.com/@sedonerrr/video/6944146070398143749?lang=en&iscopyurl=0&isfromwebapp=v3&senderdevice=pc&senderweb_id=6925887855487944198

She'll be on Token CEO podcast sometime this week. 

The overall message here is college women's basketball is littered with social media stars. Sedona Prince and Paige Bueckers have an audience no male college basketball player has. Will it translate to better ratings for the sport? Tuesday's game between UConn - Syracuse had 804k viewers on ESPN. Compare that to the Flyers-Devils on the same night and you'll see it had just 200k viewers. Now it's not an apples-to-apples comparisson considering more people have ESPN than NBCSN, so let's look at some other recent sporting events. Last Saturday's UFC card (Kevin Holland - Derek Brunson) saw 700k viewers on ESPN, but that was on a Saturday night against the NCAA tournament. Another comparisson: during the Syracuse - UConn 2nd round game, 996k were tuned into Pelicans-Sixers on TNT. All in all, that 804k viewers is pretty good and I don't think it would've happened if Paige wasn't on UConn. It's very well documented that what grew the game of basketball both domestically and internationally were superstars like Michael Jordan and LeBron. The generation of Paige Bueckers, Cameron Brink, Hailey Van Lith, Sabrina Ionescu, and Azzi Fudd are here to do the same for their sport. 

The ratings for Saturday's matchup between UConn and Iowa have not come out yet, but I will be very intrigued to see them. I assume it will be firmly above 1 million. Tonight's game against Baylor is on ESPN at 7PM. It's been a weird year with the pandemic and scheduling is all thrown off, but I think the NCAA is doing a great disservice to both the mens and womens game to have the Elite Eight on at the same time.