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Volume 21 No. 2
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Kentucky is top draw during CBS-Turner era

During the first three years of CBS and Turner’s NCAA tournament partnership, it was clear who held the most influence: CBS had the biggest games and posted the biggest ratings for the event.

This year, though, marked the first time TBS carried Elite Eight and Final Four games. While CBS still posted some of the tournament’s biggest ratings, it is not a surprise that TBS’s four most viewed NCAA tournament games since it acquired the package in 2011 came this year.

Kentucky has proved to be the most popular NCAA tournament team over the past four years, as Wildcat games have accounted for five of the tournament’s 10 biggest audiences, not including championship games. During that time, Kentucky played in three of the four Final Fours.

Kentucky’s Final Four game against Connecticut in 2011 averaged 16.7 million viewers on CBS, ranking second only to last year’s Michigan-Syracuse Final Four game (17.1 million viewers). The Kentucky-focused “Teamcast” around the Final Four earlier this month is TNT’s fourth most viewed game over the four years the channel has carried tournament games.

Pittsburgh is at the other end of the viewing spectrum, having competed in the two least viewed NCAA tournament games since 2011. This year’s second-round game against Colorado averaged just 508,000 viewers on TBS, and 2011’s second-round game against UNC Asheville averaged 510,000.

TruTV, which was the least distributed of all networks with 91 million homes, posted the lowest ratings of the four channels carrying games. Surprisingly, its most viewed game over the past four years was this year’s First Four matchup between Tennessee and Iowa. The game averaged 2.2 million viewers.

Ratings for TNT games have not been as high as the ones for TBS. TNT is in 97 million homes, and TBS is in 98 million, according to the most recent Nielsen numbers.

Top NCAA tournament telecasts for each channel

Most watched nontitle NCAA Men’s March Madness games, by network, in the four seasons since the organization’s rights deal with Turner and CBS began.


Sat., April 6, 2013 (9:11) Michigan-Syracuse (Final Four) 17,104
Sat., April 2, 2011 (8:57) UConn-Kentucky (Final Four) 16,715
Sat., March 31, 2012 (8:52) Kansas-Ohio State (Final Four) 16,603
Sun., March 31, 2013 (4:55) Louisville-Duke (Elite Eight) 15,600
Sun., March 27, 2011 (4:56) Kentucky-North Carolina (Elite Eight) 15,082


Sun., March 18, 2012 (8:42) Kansas-Purdue (Third Round) 4,432
Sun., March 20, 2011 (6:00) Arizona-Texas (Third Round) 4,408
Sun., March 20, 2011 (8:52) Kansas-Illinois (Third Round) 4,408
Sat., April 5, 2014 (9:00) Kentucky-Wisconsin* (Final Four) 4,300
Sat., March 23, 2013 (8:35) Wichita State-Gonzaga (Third Round) 4,178


Sat., April 5, 2014 (9:00) Kentucky-Wisconsin (Final Four) 10,386
Sat., March 29, 2014 (8:38) Wisconsin-Arizona (Elite Eight) 9,967
Sat., March 29, 2014 (6:00) Florida-Dayton (Elite Eight) 7,203
Sat., April 5, 2014 (5:56) UConn-Florida (Final Four) 7,099
Fri., March 29, 2013 (10:30) Florida-Florida Gulf Coast (Sweet 16) 6,739


Wed, March 19, 2014 (9:17) Tennessee-Iowa (First Four) 2,227
Sun., March 20, 2011 (7:30) Marquette-Syracuse (Third Round) 2,215
Thurs., March 21, 2013 (7:38) Cal-UNLV (Second Round) 2,090
Sun., March 18, 2012 (7:55) Xavier-Lehigh (Third Round) 1,995
Sun., March 23, 2014 (8:00) Baylor-Creighton (Third Round) 1,865

* The Final Four for the first time this year featured “Teamcasts” of each game. For the Kentucky-Wisconsin game, Kentucky-focused announcers broadcast the game on TNT, while Wisconsin-focused announcers called the game on truTV. The national telecast was TBS’s most watched game of the 2014 tournament.
Note: All times are p.m., ET
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen data