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Worst Ratings Ever for NCAA Final? Probably Not.

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April 6th, 2008

Memphis Beats UCLABill Gorman poses the question of whether the matchups in the NCAA matter in terms of the ratings. You'd think they should, and on that basis it seems like the Monday night final between Kansas and Memphis would fare the worst, where UCLA vs. North Carolina matchup would've fared better. I say, "I don't know". Whereas in baseball it's rather easy to predict that if the Yankees or Red Sox are in the World Series, it's a boon for the MLB (even if Boston is a "smaller" market team, Red Sox nation transcends Boston and Fenway Park by a large, large margin), but this is harder to predict with the NCAA finals. In 2006, Florida matched up against UCLA in the final and it drew but a scant 17.54 million.

Update April 8, 2008: The final drew 19.501 million viewers (click the link for more 2008 final game numbers).

UCLA is in an awfully big market, and indeed has alumni all over the place, but still last year's game again featuring Florida, but this time vs. Ohio State (a much, much smaller market than Los Angeles) it drew 19.56 million, over two million viewers more than UCLA. Why? This is purely speculation, but the Florida vs. Ohio state game featured at least four players who went on to the NBA, two of which were household names for anyone who'd watched the tournament: Joachim Noah on Florida and Greg Oden on Ohio State. Out of the almost 20 million who watched last year's final I think everyone had name recognition around Oden and Noah.

I'm not sure that will be anywhere near the case this year. I don't think the average casual sports fan could name anyone on either Kansas or Memphis. I'm pretty sure of the final four teams this year, in man on the street interviews only Tyler Hansbrough name would've had any type of name recognition. And Psycho-T and the Tarheels are not in the final which logically spells a ratings decline.

But maybe what these ratings correlate with mostly is how many people still had these teams alive in their NCAA bracket. As both teams are number one seeds, it's not unthinkable that there are quite a few, although my anecdotal information is that more people picked Kansas, UCLA, and North Carolina than Memphis.

I would be bold just for the heck of it and predict RECORD LOW RATINGS. Or at least the fewest average viewers ever, but I can't do it. So far worst performance in an NCAA final honors goes to the 2004 final between Connecticut and Georgia Tech. But I'm not predicting the lowest ratings ever, primarily on the basis of what else is on television. More on that in a second.

A couple of other data points. While overnight Nielsen ratings for sporting events are always lousy, comparing this year's overnight Saturday semi-finals ratings with last year's overnight numbers actually shows improvement. Both of these numbers are just for the primetime portion of the coverage, but last year averaged 12.48 million and a 4.2/14 (rating/share) in the 18-49 demographic. Last night's averaged 12.86 million and a 4.5/15. Update (April 6, 3:10PDT): Last years final primetime numbers were 14.1 million for semifinal coverage, leading many outlets to report a continued ratings downturn for the NCAA games, although when the final primetime numbers are released (we'll have them no later than Tuesday) I expect performance on par or better than last year for the primetime portion of the semifinals.

Again, overnight numbers are meaningless as last year's overnight number for the final game was 16.84 million. The actual final number for the game was 19.56 million, so you can see its no small margin of error sometimes when it comes to live sporting events.

While the finals will again Face Off (at least in the East) against Dancing with the Stars on ABC and Deal or No Deal on NBC, last year on FOX it faced off against 24 (which did a ‘below average' 10.85 million in the overnights). But there is no 24 this year, and that is what prevents me from predicting record low ratings for the NCAA final.

This year, in the 9p-10p timeslot for FOX is New Amsterdam, and while it has built some very loyal fans already, it's no 24 ratings-wise. In last Monday night's overnight ratings (usually far more accurate for serial drama, than live sporting events), New Amsterdam pulled in but 6.63 million viewers and just a 2.1/5 among 18-49 year olds.

Keep in mind, my pick to win it all was Georgetown, so when it comes to this sort of speculation your best bet is probably to bet against me. I don't think CBS will break a new record for fewest viewers ever, and it may just have FOX to thank for that.

 
  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    Perhaps, for college basketball, name recognition of the schools may be more important than market size for the ratings.

    If you asked general sports fans “name the top college basketball programs”, my guess is that UNC and UCLA are on most lists. Kansas is likely on plenty, but not quite as many. Memphis is relatively unknown.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I think there must be at least something to your theory if you look at the 2000s and consider that games featuring UNC, Duke and Indiana outperformed other games. Indiana is a small market, but has supersized basketball recognition.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I think there must be at least something to your theory if you look at the 2000s and consider that games featuring UNC, Duke and Indiana outperformed other games. Indiana is a small market, but has supersized basketball recognition.

  • Billy Bain

    UNC has the top officially licensed logowear in the country. UCLA unbelievably lives on the memory of John Wooden. No doubt, a Tarheel/Bruin championship would have kicked butt and drawn much higher viewership.

    Kansas is more well known that Memphis, since Memphis is unknown. Kanas will draw the viewers but Memphis is going to embarrass the Bears. 85 to 53. It’s going to be brutal.

  • Billy Bain

    UNC has the top officially licensed logowear in the country. UCLA unbelievably lives on the memory of John Wooden. No doubt, a Tarheel/Bruin championship would have kicked butt and drawn much higher viewership.

    Kansas is more well known that Memphis, since Memphis is unknown. Kanas will draw the viewers but Memphis is going to embarrass the Bears. 85 to 53. It's going to be brutal.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @Billy — wow, that’s a bold prediction! Jayhawk nation will not be pleased with that outcome, and I’d think neither would CBS. Blowouts can’t be good for ratings.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @Billy — wow, that's a bold prediction! Jayhawk nation will not be pleased with that outcome, and I'd think neither would CBS. Blowouts can't be good for ratings.

  • GHarri

    This tourney ended up with the best four teams competing for the final game, and the best two teams fighting for the championship. The BCS, on the other hand – well, I don’t know what it is even trying to do. Surely, there will be some interest in seeing these two great teams face off, after what they did to the other number ones. Here’s a good debate about the college post season systems:
    http://digits.hrblock.com/ssDigits/digits.php?rType=1&sPath=1703&sNode=1703&uId=286

  • GHarri

    This tourney ended up with the best four teams competing for the final game, and the best two teams fighting for the championship. The BCS, on the other hand – well, I don't know what it is even trying to do. Surely, there will be some interest in seeing these two great teams face off, after what they did to the other number ones. Here's a good debate about the college post season systems:
    http://digits.hrblock.com/ssDigits/digits.php?r

  • Jeremy

    I’d say anyone who thinks this is gonna be a blowout is crazy, but that’s what I thought about KU-UNC. Oops. Still, I think KU showed they are legit last night, and have the athletes and execution to hang with anyone… it’ll be a good game. As for the ratings, it’s maybe no big deal, but the U.S. Army has a Fort a few minutes from Lawrence, KS, and many kids (me for one) establish KU as their favorite team while their parents are stationed there. This same thing happens for the KC Chiefs, who have season ticket holders in every state. I guess my point is that the ratings draw of KU might well be larger than you’d think. Plus, most basketball fans know how good these two teams are, and will watch based on that alone.

  • Jeremy

    I'd say anyone who thinks this is gonna be a blowout is crazy, but that's what I thought about KU-UNC. Oops. Still, I think KU showed they are legit last night, and have the athletes and execution to hang with anyone… it'll be a good game. As for the ratings, it's maybe no big deal, but the U.S. Army has a Fort a few minutes from Lawrence, KS, and many kids (me for one) establish KU as their favorite team while their parents are stationed there. This same thing happens for the KC Chiefs, who have season ticket holders in every state. I guess my point is that the ratings draw of KU might well be larger than you'd think. Plus, most basketball fans know how good these two teams are, and will watch based on that alone.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    Speaking of blowout, couldn’t you just hear the CBS suits screaming when @ 7 min to go in the first half of the UNC/Kansas game Billy Packer says “Jim, this game is *over*”?

  • Mikey

    The Hollywood Reporter is reporting time zone adjusted fast nationals for the semi-finals indicating that they were in fact lower than last year:

    “CBS’ coverage of Saturday’s Memphis-UCLA NCAA men’s basketball tournament national semifinal game, played in the early window of the net’s Final Four coverage, earned a 7.2 overnight rating, down 14% from an 8.4 for the comparable Ohio State-Georgetown game in ’07. In the late window, Kansas-North Carolina averaged an 8.8 overnight, down 1% from an 8.9 for Florida-UCLA last year.”

    The 11.0 for Uconn-Ga Tech in 2004 is a good over/under. The semi-finals are down a combined -8%. If that holds up for the final we’d be looking at an 11.2.

    It’s going to be close. I think the final will barely avoid being the lowest-ever. Mostly I say that because these are up-tempo teams and I think we’ll get a close game, but what do I know?

  • Mikey

    The Hollywood Reporter is reporting time zone adjusted fast nationals for the semi-finals indicating that they were in fact lower than last year:

    “CBS' coverage of Saturday's Memphis-UCLA NCAA men's basketball tournament national semifinal game, played in the early window of the net's Final Four coverage, earned a 7.2 overnight rating, down 14% from an 8.4 for the comparable Ohio State-Georgetown game in '07. In the late window, Kansas-North Carolina averaged an 8.8 overnight, down 1% from an 8.9 for Florida-UCLA last year.”

    The 11.0 for Uconn-Ga Tech in 2004 is a good over/under. The semi-finals are down a combined -8%. If that holds up for the final we'd be looking at an 11.2.

    It's going to be close. I think the final will barely avoid being the lowest-ever. Mostly I say that because these are up-tempo teams and I think we'll get a close game, but what do I know?

  • Perry

    “march madness” is the most over-hyped event in sports television.
    Unlike Super Bowl hype where people really are interested most sports fans will not watch even one game of this event.
    Why the hype for College Basketball? Because it provides a lot of cheap programming for the networks at a time of year where there is little else to program.
    (By the way if you like College Basketball your fine with me, I’m just responding to the hype which has turned an a moderate event into a gigantic media event)

  • Perry

    “march madness” is the most over-hyped event in sports television.
    Unlike Super Bowl hype where people really are interested most sports fans will not watch even one game of this event.
    Why the hype for College Basketball? Because it provides a lot of cheap programming for the networks at a time of year where there is little else to program.
    (By the way if you like College Basketball your fine with me, I'm just responding to the hype which has turned an a moderate event into a gigantic media event)

  • Mikey

    Cheap programming? I would wager that on a per hour basis the NCAA Tournament is some of the most expensive programming on television.

    CBS is paying $545 mill a year for the Tournament. They do 26 broadcasts at roughly 2 and a half hours each. That’s over $8 mill per hour.

    Are there a lot of shows in primetime costing their networks over $8 million per hour? I doubt it.

    Although, I have to say, I agree with your larger point: the Tournament is absurdly overhyped relative to the numbers it actually delivers.

  • Mikey

    Cheap programming? I would wager that on a per hour basis the NCAA Tournament is some of the most expensive programming on television.

    CBS is paying $545 mill a year for the Tournament. They do 26 broadcasts at roughly 2 and a half hours each. That's over $8 mill per hour.

    Are there a lot of shows in primetime costing their networks over $8 million per hour? I doubt it.

    Although, I have to say, I agree with your larger point: the Tournament is absurdly overhyped relative to the numbers it actually delivers.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    I’ll leave judging the hype level to others, but the numbers speak for themselves.

    The NCAA tourney through the regional finals delivers average viewership just below that of the baseball playoffs with much less advantageous timing, since the baseball games are in primetime or weekend afternoons and are far shorter time periods [thus easier to maintain high average viewership], whereas the first two days of the NCAA tournament are on weekday mornings.

    The NCAA tourney final game, even with its recent ratings fall, still delivers numbers on the order of a baseball World Series game.

  • Mikey

    Bill, that’s a fair comparison. I was almost hoping you’d make it.

    Advertisers pay well over a million dollars to advertise in the final four.

    The World Series gets about 400k.

    Why the disparity?

    Overhyped, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder. Overvalued is probably more accurate, IMO.

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