A new record for the largest audience to attend a women’s sporting event has been set, and it wasn’t a FIFA Women’s World Cup match—it was a college volleyball event in Nebraska.
More than 90,000 people packed into Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska to celebrate “Volleyball Day in Nebraska,” on Aug. 30. The event featured an exhibition game between the Wayne State Wildcats and Nebraska-Kearney, followed by an NCAA division I match-up between the Huskers (on their home turf) and Omaha Mavericks. The Huskers beat their rivals in a 3-0 sweep, and also broke several records in the process.
The sold-out match, held in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s football stadium, brought in 92,003 attendees. The previous world record attendance for a women’s sports event was a UEFA Champions League game between Barcelona and Wolfsburg on April 22, 2022, which drew 91,648 people.
The Huskers also set a new record for largest attendance of an NCAA volleyball game—it was previously 18,755 people—and the largest regular-season attendance, with the previous record being 16,833 people. It also surpassed the US record for attendance of a women’s sports event, the 1999 Women’s World Cup final in Pasadena, which drew a crowd of 90,185.
“This is a big statement being made here today by all of the teams in Nebraska that are part of this celebration, but it’s also a big statement about the growth and the popularity of women’s volleyball,” said NCAA president Charlie Baker in a courtside interview yesterday. “The athleticism, the teamwork, the games themselves are just unbelievable.”
Big Ten volleyball has been a big deal in Nebraska for decades. The Huskers program was founded in 1975, and has since claimed five NCAA championships. Nebraska has been a leader in NCAA attendance since 2013, according to the college league, and sold out 306 consecutive games.
Now the rest of the US is catching up to the volleyball craze in the Cornhusker State. The sport is ranked only second to outdoor track & field as the most popular sport among high school girls, according to figures from the National Federation of State High School Associations released Aug. 30.
Volleyball’s growing profile and opportunities are two factors drawing in young people. The US women’s volleyball team took home the gold medal for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Meanwhile, two new women’s pro volleyball leagues in the US are set to launch in 2024: League One Volleyball and Pro Volleyball Federation. The sport is also picking up in viewership on TV, with a record 1.2 million people tuning into the 2021 NCAA volleyball championship on ESPN2 (outstripping viewership for the Major League Soccer final that same year, as Axios pointed out).
Volleyball also offers a fast-paced, no-contact alternative to basketball. Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, said to ESPN: “There’s a whole lot of girls out there who like to be powerful, who like to be strong and assertive and aggressive, but they also like having a net between them.”