Kansas-UNC Game is Most-Watched NCAA Basketball Finals in Cable History

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An average of 18.1 million people watched the Kansas Jayhawks’ thrilling victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels on Monday, making it the most watched NCAA men’s basketball championship game on cable television, Turner Sports announced. on Tuesday – surpassing last year’s broadcast despite not appearing on network TV.

Main facts

Viewership for the men’s title game, broadcast simultaneously on Turner’s cable channels TBS, TNT, and truTV, was up more than 4% from last year’s Gonzaga/Baylor matchup on CBS.

Monday’s match was the third most-watched college basketball game in cable television history, trailing Saturday night’s Duke/UNC Final Four match (which drew 18.5 million viewers) and the Wisconsin/ 2015 Kentucky Final Four (which holds the cable record with 22.6 million viewers, according to the Associated Press).

The men’s March Madness tournament averaged 10.7 million total viewers this year, up 13% from 2021, and attracted the highest audience share – or proportion of total TV viewers – since 1994, according to Turner Sports.

Under a 2016 contract with the NCAA, Turner Sports will broadcast the Final Four and championship games in even-numbered years and CBS will host matches in odd-numbered years through 2032.

Since that deal was signed, ratings have generally increased when CBS — a broadcast network that typically attracts higher ratings than its cable competitors — airs the championship game, but this most recent two-year period marks the first in that Turner outperformed its network television counterpart. , as CBS only attracted 16.9 million viewers in 2021.

what we don’t know

It’s unclear why Saturday’s Final Four showdown trumped Monday’s championship game. It’s possible that viewers tuned in to see what turned out to be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last game, as the 75-year-old was on the cusp of retirement at the end of the season after 42 years leading the Blue Devils. Duke, one of the most prominent basketball shows in the country, also participated in the 2015 Final Four game that broke the record for most watched men’s college basketball game on cable.

key background

Prior to the latest broadcast deal, the NCAA men’s championship aired on CBS for decades, and viewership typically ranged between 17 million and 24 million since the early 2000s, according to Sports Media Watch. Monday night’s numbers pale in comparison to the most-watched college basketball game of all time: the 1979 title game between Michigan State and Indiana State, which drew 35.1 million viewers to NBC. That game foreshadowed a decade-long rivalry between future Hall of Famers Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.

Tangent

About 12.5 million viewers watched Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals last July — roughly a third less than the college equivalent brought in on Monday night. As a whole, the men’s March Madness in 2022 surpassed last year’s NBA playoffs, drawing 10.7 million average viewers compared to just 4.3 million average viewers for the 2021 NBA playoffs.

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