NCAA volleyball: More TV news; AVCA honors Cook; big tourney set


Temi Thomas-Ailara attacks as Wisconsin teammates CC Crawford, left, and Devyn Robinson block during practice for the Wisconsin Badgers practice Wednesday/@AndyWenstrand

As we wait for the start of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship national semifinals, notes, notes, notes …

We have a TV update from Larry Hamel, Nebraska’s John Cook is the AVCA national coach of the year, and there’s going to be a heck of a volleyball tournament in Milwaukee in September.

We will have match stories soon after the conclusion of the Nebraska-Pittsburgh and Wisconsin-Texas matches.

VBM’s Hamel on regionals TV

It’s time again to crunch the positive TV numbers that continued to pour in for NCAA women’s volleyball, on this occasion in the four NCAA Tournament round-of-eight matches telecast throughout the day and night Saturday on the third-tier cable channel ESPNU.

In the Nielsen ratings reported on Tuesday by the Sports Media Watch site, the audiences for those four matches gained 32.7% in a year-to-year comparison with the quartet that aired on ESPNU on December, 10. 2022.

Here’s a breakdown of the total-average viewerships from Saturday (with the start time for the ESPNU telecast in parentheses): Wisconsin-Oregon, 379,000 (8:28 p.m. Eastern); Nebraska-Arkansas, 377,000 (6: 45 p.m.); Texas-Stanford, 355,000 (10:28 p.m.); Pittsburgh-Louisville, 192,000 (4:13 p.m.). That totaled 1.203 million compared to the 906,000 that had tuned into the regional finals in 2022 on the same channel in a similar time window.

The peak match of 2023 showed a 21.8% increase on the most-watched of 2022 (311,000 for the third of the day). The trough match was 32.4% higher than the least-watched from the previous year (145,000, again in the opener).

As I remind the readers every time I pen a post about TV ratings, an upward arrow on the “fever line” bucks the business-wide trend on cable during an era of cord-cutting by subscribers. Note that these viewership gains were logged even as the “reach” of ESPNU dropped 4% from December 2022 to December 2023. Many ratings pundits rationalize that audience maintenance is a positive and that a drop that tracks the overall percentage of erosion of cable TV households is acceptable.

I’m not all together sure that TV network beancounters buy into that concept, since “eyeballs” have a direct correlation with the proverbial bottom line. Total average viewership (P2 in ratings nomenclature) is a base component in the formula that determines how much a channel can charge its advertisers for a 30-second spot (CPM x P2 in thousands = cost of ad, for those who might care), so smaller audiences result in less revenue generated.

Even the first variable in that equation, cost per thousand impressions (CPM), is indirectly affected by viewership, particularly in the coveted 18-40 demographic, since a lower number might cause a decrease in CPM during the next round of ad sales.

If you’ve gotten this far and you’re a volleyball fan, here’s the bottom line: Volleyball viewership is going up at a time when an ebb tide on cable is lowering all boats. Be happy about that!

Consider, too, that all of the round-of-8 matches were streamed on the ESPN+ service with 26 million subscribers, and they could be seen from the start of play, which was not the case with any of the telecasts on ESPNU, which were joined in progress. We can’t say exactly how concurrent ESPN+ streaming might have affected the viewership on the linear channel, but it’s safe to say that a lot of die-hard volleyball fans who regularly watch matches on the popular ESPN+ platform probably didn’t flip over to ESPNU.

A final observation: If volleyball fans want more college matches on higher-profile linear TV platforms, the best strategy to accomplish that (particularly if you are a family in the Nielsen survey) is to watch the NCAA Tournament final on Sunday afternoon live on over-the-air ABC (3 p.m. Eastern). If the NCAA title match pops a big number airing against the NFL on a Sunday, TV decision-makers are sure to notice.

Nebraska’s Cook AVCA coach of the year

Nebraska’s John Cook was announced as the 2023 AVCA Division I Women’s coach of the year on Thursday. Cook previously got the AVCA honor in 2000 and 2005.

Cook has led Nebraska to a 32-1 record this season heading into its NCAA semifinal matchup with Pittsburgh. The Huskers lead the nation in wins and winning percentage, and Nebraska won an outright Big Ten Conference title and was selected as the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Cook was also the AVCA North Region and Big Ten coach of the year.

Wisconsin, Texas, Stanford, Minnesota set for Labor Day

In what will be one of the stronger 2024 pre-conference tournaments, Wisconsin, Stanford, Texas and Minnesotal will gather next Labor Day in Milwaukee.

The event was organized by Intersport and FOX Sports. Wisconsin of the Big Ten plays  Texas of what will then be the SEC, and Stanford of what will be the ACC taking on Minnesota of the Big Ten on Sunday, September 1. The next day, feature Wisconsin plays Stanford and Texas plays Minnesota. Two of the four matches will be broadcast on FOX and two on FS1.

Fox noted that the four teams have combined for 13 national championships, 17 second-place finishes and 48 national-semifinal appearances. They’ve also won four of the last five national championships and at least one of the four programs has appeared in the semis since 2012.

This past September 13, Wisconsin faced Marquette at Fiserv, the downtown Milwaukee Arena, and drew an indoor volleyball record 17,037 fans.

USA Today dishes on NCAA volleyball 

One thing that happened this year was tremendous interest in NCAA volleyball from media outlets that don’t normally pay attention, so much as cover the sport.

USA Today columnist Nancy Armour wrote a piece that posted Wednesday that had the headline, “Volleyball proving to be the next big thing in sports as NCAA attendance, ratings soar.”

If you’re a volleyball fan who recognizes the upward trajectory our sport is on, you will appreciate the article.

As Armour noted, “Those in volleyball have known for several years the sport was on an upward trend. The number of high school girls playing volleyball has grown by almost 12% in the last decade and, with 470,488 players last year, is the second-most popular sport … Boys volleyball is the fastest-growing high school sport in the country.”

Click here to read the USA Today story.

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