NCAA Tourney sees increase in Elite Eight TV ratings

Upsets are not the only factor involved, but one coach said parity is good for March Madness.

by Michael Rietmulder

Hundreds of millions of viewers watch at least part of the NCAA menâÄôs basketball tournament, affectionately known as March Madness. Though top-tier basketball programs can often be a catalyst for the millions of viewers tuning in to NCAA menâÄôs basketball tournament games, statistics show that their absence doesnâÄôt always guarantee that ratings will plummet. CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus said in a teleconference Tuesday he is confident this yearâÄôs Final Four will receive adequate ratings despite featuring only one No. 1 seed, though he admitted the network would benefit from having Duke University among the last standing. âÄúDuke does manage to generate pretty strong emotions, both positively and negatively, on a lot of college basketball, and that generally tends to translate into better television ratings,âÄù McManus said. McManus added that itâÄôs also beneficial to have other traditional powerhouse teams like the University of Kansas, the University of Kentucky, the University of North Carolina and the University of California-Los Angeles in the tournament because they garner a significant amount of national attention. However, despite two of those teams failing to make the tournament and only Duke and Kentucky advancing past the second round, this yearâÄôs ratings through Elite Eight games have improved from last year. According to CBS Sports, last yearâÄôs Elite Eight, which featured all four No. 1 seeds and three No. 2 seeds, had an average household rating of 6.0. This year, only two No. 1 seeds made the Elite Eight along with two No. 5 seeds and one No. 6 seed, but the round had an average rating of 6.9. âÄúWeâÄôve said a lot that âĦ itâÄôs good to have a number of the big national teams âĦ in the tournament, but to be honest with you, the story lines that have developed I think really do make this a different kind of tournament where we havenâÄôt been as reliant on the big teams,âÄù McManus said. One of the more compelling story lines McManus points to is that of No. 5 Butler University, a mid-major school in Indiana, which has played its way into the Final Four, knocking off No. 1 Syracuse along the way. Butler will be next weekendâÄôs hometown hero, as this yearâÄôs Final Four is in Indianapolis. Butler defeated No. 2 Kansas State University on Saturday, but the gameâÄôs ratings paled in comparison to the contest between Kentucky and West Virginia University, which immediately preceded the Butler game. According to the Nielsen Company, ButlerâÄôs Elite Eight game attracted roughly 7.4 million viewers, a Nielsen rating of 4.8, while the West Virginia game drew more than 12 million viewers, earning a 7.3 rating. SundayâÄôs game between Duke and Baylor University garnered even more fanfare, with an 8.7 rating, approximately 13.8 million viewers. However, matchups are not the only factor that affect ratings. Aaron Lewis, a sports television specialist with Nielsen, said timeslots greatly impact an eventâÄôs ratings. âÄúGenerally the later the game, the higher the ratings are,âÄù Lewis said. âÄúWe see that in just about any sort of sport.âÄù Elite Eight games are generally played over two days, with two games per day and one immediately following the other. Of last yearâÄôs Elite Eight games, the later games averaged roughly 2.4 million viewers more than the early games. Ratings aside, Butler assistant coach Matthew Graves believes parity is good for the tournament and said upsets add âÄúintrigue to the game.âÄù âÄúI think itâÄôs one of the reasons itâÄôs the best sporting event in the world because once the tournament starts, anything is possible,âÄù Graves said.