WASHINGTON — For the second year in a row, the NCAA Championship television ratings broke records–just not in a good way. Unfortunately for all parties, 2016 was the least-watched men’s basketball title game in at least 18 years.
This comes as a bit of a surprise, considering that the finish has been widely lauded as the most exciting finish in tournament history, and belongs in the discussion of best sports finish of all time.
Yet Villanova’s buzzer-beating victory over North Carolina averaged just a 10.6 fast nationals market share, and just 17.8 million total viewers. That’s down 37 percent from the 28.3 million who watched Duke-Wisconsin in 2015 and down 16 percent from the 21.3 million from UConn-Kentucky in 2014.
The hidden difference? Cable ratings vs. network ratings. With the game taken off of CBS and broadcast television and aired only on TBS, TNT and TruTV, the game was available in fewer homes across the country.
When judged against other cable shows yesterday, the championship game dominated the ratings, with TBS pulling the majority of viewers at 4.5 market share.
As John Ourand of Sports Business Journal points out, rating spiked at the end of regulation, overtime and the eventual game-winning shot:
The CBS-Turner ratings release just came out. The game averaged 17.8M viewers across TBS, TNT, truTV. Peaked at 22.3M from 11:15-11:30pm ET.— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) April 5, 2016
Tuesday also brought reports that the NCAA, CBS and Turner Sports were in the process of extending the $10.8 billion contract, signed in 2010 and not set to expire until 2024.
It is yet unclear how these ratings will factor into those negotiations.