As Women’s Volleyball Breaks Records, Brand Interest Spikes


Shattered attendance records. Skyrocketing viewership. Exploding revenue.

There might not be a hotter sport in the U.S. than NCAA women’s volleyball, and media partners and brands are falling over themselves to participate.

“The hardest part is making sure we have room for everybody,” Jacqueline Dobies, vp of revenue and yield management at ESPN, told Adweek.

To help make that room, every NCAA volleyball tournament game was available on an ESPN platform this year, giving the Disney company far more advertising inventory than before—as well as sales success.

“A great matchup is just icing on the cake, but we definitely experienced sellouts for this way earlier than we have in years prior,” Dobies said.

As an example of the bump in brands, this year’s NCAA women’s volleyball championship tournament on ESPN brought in 76 advertisers, a 69% increase over last year’s 45, with the top spending advertisers including Volvo, Nissan, Procter & Gamble, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Novo Nordisk.

Additionally, those advertisers spanned 51 categories, compared to just 31 last year, with the top spending categories including autos, pharma, cellular radio systems and accessories, household cleaners and athletic wear.

And partners are getting their money’s worth.

Overall, ESPN saw its most-watched women’s college volleyball regular season ever, averaging 116,000 viewers on its networks—up 58% year-over-year.

Those numbers prompted the company to move the NCAA selection show to ESPN (from ESPNU) and broadcast the final on ABC for the first time last Sunday.

“We see this as a sport where we have a lot invested in. It resonates with people, and we get a great response,” Dan Margulis, ESPN’s senior director of programming and acquisitions, told Adweek ahead of the championship. “Every time we do these things, it’s an experiment, and we think it’s going to be successful.”

Bump in attendance

Despite going up against the NFL with a 3 p.m. airtime, Sunday’s championship between Nebraska and Texas on ABC became the most-watched college volleyball match in history. The event averaged 1.7 million viewers—a 115% increase from 2022 when ESPN aired the championship on a Saturday night in primetime.

Additionally, last week’s semifinals on Thursday, which went against Thursday Night Football and the NBA, averaged 1.1 million viewers—another record.

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