In winning its fourth NCAA Men’s basketball title in 16 years, the University of Connecticut on Monday night took its rightful place among the greatest college hoops programs of the modern era. It’s only a shame that more people weren’t watching.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, UConn’s 60-54 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats delivered 21.2 million viewers and a 12.4 household rating/20 share. In other words, one-fifth of all TV sets in use last night were tuned in to CBS’ coverage of the March Madness final.
The broadcast peaked between 11 p.m. and 11:24 p.m. EDT, drawing 24.3 million total viewers and a 14.2 rating/24 share. (While not particularly relevant in this instance—networks carrying big-time sporting events make guarantees against household ratings rather than demos—the CBS broadcast earned a 7.2 among adults 18-49.)
Ratings for the 2014 NCAA tourney final were down 11 percent versus last year’s comparatively high-scoring Louisville-Michigan game. The Cardinals’ 82-76 win was watched by 23.4 million viewers and served up a 14.0 rating/22 share.
With a final score of 60-54, the UConn-Kentucky title tilt was the lowest-scoring final since the last time the Huskies went all the way. Jim Calhoun’s claustrophobic defense in 2011 beat Butler 53-41 in a no-frills affair in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Predictably enough, that too was a relatively low-rated broadcast, delivering 20.1 million viewers and an 11.7 rating/18 share.
Either UConn doesn’t have a very strong national fan base, or people don’t particularly like to watch suffocating defensive traps. The Huskies were involved in the least-watched, lowest-rated NCAA final since the games were shifted to prime time in 1973. The 2004 UConn-Georgia Tech showdown drew just 17.1 million viewers and an 11.1 rating.
Per Kantar Media, March Madness is now the most lucrative sporting event on the tube. Turner and CBS last season raked in $1.15 billion in tourney ad revenue, marking the second consecutive year the two partners generated a ten-figure haul. By comparison, the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl hauled in $1.1 billion in sponsor dollars, while the NBA Playoffs and Championship Series took in $929 million.
While UConn didn’t quite get the audience it deserved, it appears that Turner Sports’ first Final Four was a raging success. Not only did TBS, TNT and truTV retain 90 percent of CBS’ year-ago ratings, but the new Fancast experiment put up big numbers as well.
While TBS carried the primary feed for the two games, the TNT and truTV simulcasts helped lift the overall ratings. In the late game, the Kentucky-centric TNT simulcast delivered 4.3 million viewers Saturday night, while the Wisco-friendly truTV telecast averaged 1.56 million.
The two simulcasts accounted for 5.86 million viewers, or 36 percent of the 16.3 million total deliveries. (TBS’ national broadcast drew 10.4 million viewers.)
Much the same held sway in the early game, as the Florida-leaning TNT simulcast averaged 3.7 million viewers, while UConn’s truTV Fancast drew 851,000 viewers. Together, the alternate telecasts accounted for 39 percent of Turner’s overall UConn-Florida deliveries.
Turner and CBS will begin alternating stewardship of the NCAA Div. I Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship Game in 2016.