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92,003 fans set a record for women's sports attendance watching college volleyball

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now let's head to Nebraska, the site of a brand-new world record.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Huskers power.

SHAPIRO: Yesterday more than 92,000 fans packed the University of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium not for Cornhuskers football. This crowd gathered for women's college volleyball. Nebraska Public Media's Aaron Bonderson reports on the new record for women's sports attendance from Lincoln.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting, inaudible).

AARON BONDERSON, BYLINE: The mood was festive, almost like a holiday inside Memorial Stadium, especially when fans found out they had broken a world record.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The world record's broken.

(APPLAUSE)

BONDERSON: Connie Olson brought her family, saying everyone wanted to be a part of it.

CONNIE OLSON: My daughter is a huge volleyball fan, and she loves everything about it. So - and this is a historical event. We had to be here.

BONDERSON: Avery Plessel is a junior at the University of Nebraska.

AVERY PLESSEL: It's kind of a - cool just to be a part of it and just to be here and say that you've been able to attend an event like this.

BONDERSON: This didn't just happen. Volleyball only became an NCAA sport in 1981. But it's huge here now. A volleyball academy in Omaha draws students from small towns across the state, and the university has sold out more than 300-straight volleyball matches. But that's in an arena that only holds about 8,000. Cornhuskers' head coach John Cook says he wasn't sure they could sell out the big football stadium but was excited to try.

JOHN COOK: This would be really cool - play volleyball and then have a big party afterward, you know? And people will love it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and that's how people are viewing this - is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

BONDERSON: Tickets went on sale in April, and 81,000 sold within the first three days. The school also sold alcohol for the first time at an athletic event in the stadium and added a country music concert at the end. Lexi Rodriguez and Ally Batenhorst are players on the Cornhusker team. Rodriguez says the school's volleyball athletes from the past laid the foundation.

LEXI RODRIGUEZ: And if it wasn't for their, like, dedication to the sport and dedication to the state of Nebraska, like, I don't think we'd have opportunities like this.

ALLY BATENHORST: So it's just unreal that we get the opportunity to be a part of something like this and be a part of history and make history and just play in front of so many people that just love the game.

BONDERSON: Longtime sports reporter Jane McManus grew up in Lincoln. Now she directs the brand-new Center for Sports Media at Seton Hall University.

JANE MCMANUS: I think we're at a moment of tremendous momentum around women's sports.

BONDERSON: McManus says every college should brainstorm ways to emulate Nebraska's volleyball day.

MCMANUS: We're at a place now culturally where we're reevaluating how much we value women's sports. And I think, you know, seeing things like this, it's if you build it, they will come.

BONDERSON: It's been 51 years since Title IX passed, requiring equal support for men's and women's sports at federally funded schools. McManus says a lot of schools spend and make a lot of money on football. But colleges can no longer ignore the fan interest toward women's sports.

MCMANUS: Those are still valuable markets that can be developed and monetized but also, you know, also used for the same sorts of things that Nebraska football is used for, which is building community, bringing people together, having a point of pride for the college, sparking recruitment.

BONDERSON: At this point, there are no plans to host another volleyball match in Nebraska's football stadium. But Nebraskans are proud they crushed Wisconsin's previous record for a regular season women's college volleyball match by more than 71,000 fans. For NPR News, I'm Aaron Bonderson in Lincoln.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEYONCE SONG, "PARTY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Aaron Bonderson - Nebraska Public Media
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