March Madness TV Ratings: Final Four Sets Cable Record, But Hits Multi-Year Low

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Airing on cable for the first time, the NCAA Tournament Final Four was a boon to TBS — despite multi-year declines.

Saturday’s Kentucky/Wisconsin Final Four game earned a combined 9.2 U.S. rating and 16.3 million viewers on TBS, TNT and TruTV, according to Nielsen fast-nationals — down 10% in ratings and 5% in viewership from Michigan/Syracuse on CBS last year (10.2, 17.1M), and down 4% and 2%, respectively, from Kansas/Ohio State on CBS in 2012 (9.6, 16.6M).

Kentucky/Wisconsin ranks as the most-viewed non-football sporting event in cable TV history. The previous high was set by the Japan/United States Women’s World Cup Final in 2011 (13.5M). The previous high for a basketball game was 13.3 million viewers for Game 7 of the Celtics/Heat NBA Eastern Conference Finals on ESPN in 2012.

Despite the record, Kentucky/Wisconsin ranks as the lowest rated (tie) Final Four game in the late window in five years and the least-viewed in four.

Earlier in the night, the Connecticut/Florida game earned a 6.9 and 11.7 million viewers — down 21% in ratings and 19% in viewership from Louisville/Wichita State on CBS last year (8.7, 14.5M), and down 18% and 16%, respectively, from Kentucky/Louisville on CBS in 2012 (8.4, 13.9M).

The game ranks as the sixth-most viewed non-football sporting event ever on cable, trailing only Kentucky/Wisconsin (#1), the 2011 Women’s World Cup Final (#2), Game 7 of the Red Sox/Rays ALCS in 2008 (13.4M, #3), Celtics/Heat Game 7 in 2012 (#4), and Game 6 of the Yankees/Rangers ALCS in 2010 (11.8M, #5).

Even so, the game also ranks as the lowest rated and least-viewed Final Four telecast in any window since Kansas/Marquette in 2003 (6.3, 9.9M).

Most-Viewed Non-Football Sporting Events in Cable History

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Final Four Ratings/Viewership, Past Decade

Year Net(s) Early Game Rating Viewers Late Game Rating Viewers
2014 TBS, TNT, TruTV UConn/Florida 6.9 11.7M Kentucky/Wisconsin
9.2
16.3M
2013 CBS Louisville/Wich. St. 8.7 14.5M Michigan/Syracuse
10.2
17.1M
2012 CBS Kentucky/Louisville 8.4 13.9M Kansas/Ohio St.
9.6
16.6M
2011 CBS Butler/VCU 8.3 14.2M UConn/Kentucky
9.5
16.7M
2010 CBS Butler/Mich. St. 8.6 14.5M Duke/West Va.
9.2
15.8M
2009 CBS
Mich St./UConn
7.8 12.6M UNC/Villanova
8.5
14.5M
2008 CBS Memphis/UCLA 7.2 11.8M Kansas/UNC 8.8
14.4M
2007 CBS
Ohio St./Gtwn.
8.4 13.2M Florida/UCLA 8.9
14.4M
2006 CBS
Florida/G. Mason
9.1 14.5M UCLA/LSU
8.2
13.1M
2005 CBS
Illinois/Louisville
10.0 15.7M UNC/Mich. St.
10.9
17.5M
2004 CBS Ga. Tech/Okla. St. 8.3 12.9M UConn/Duke 10.5
16.7M

(Sat. numbers from Sports Business Daily)

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  • Nate Johnson

    The 1st Window… Man did it take a Big Hit after 4 consecutive good years especially having close to less than 3 million viewers from Butler/VCU’s 3 years ago! Then the game was on 3 different networks with a team on a 30 game winning streak and another being a Powerhouse College Basketball school (even though they had a down year after 2011 Title and was inelgible last year to participate in the Madness) but that is surprising

    Kentucky/Wisconsin showed that there is hope with the Final Four/National Title game to have strong numbers on Cable! One school that is a Big name in College Basketball + gets a lot of attention from National/Social Media and the other coming from the B1G TEN which is must see TV College Basketball conference= Great Numbers! Even though through the years I would say CBS don’t want non-powerhouse Collegiate schools (especially from a non-use to be BCS Conference) in the Final Four/Championship, I think that is seriously true with Turner Sports especially with the channels so unfamiliar with College Basketball during the regular season

  • Schmolik

    I kind of can understand why CBS may not want to preempt Monday night or other nights (Thursday comes to mind). But would CBS be unhappy with 11.7 million viewers on an early Saturday night?) I would think every broadcast network would be tickled pink for 16.3 million in prime time on a Saturday night. I’m sure any of them would be thrilled with 13.1 million (worst second game rating back in 2006).