NCAA Men’s Basketball TV Ratings, 1975-2008

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April 15th, 2008

2008 Final Down Slightly From 2007

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Update April 8, 2008: The final drew 19.50 million viewers. Click the link for more numbers regarding the 2008 final.

Update April 15, 2008: The chart and table have been updated.

I've been hooked on NCAA Basketball since my college days at Virginia (which started about the same time as this chart), and I've watched as much of the NCAA Men's basketball tournament every year as I possibly could. However, looking at the fairly constant TV ratings of the championship game, around 30 million viewers from 1975-1994 and then the steep drop to around 20 million since 2003, I wondered what the heck happened starting in 1995? I can't figure it out, maybe someone else out there knows something that I don't. Give it your best shot in the comments.

Here is the full data and some additional facts:

Year Avg. Through Regional Finals (million) Championship Game (million) Finals Matchup
1975   30.08 UCLA vs KENTUCKY
1976   26.71 INDIANA vs MICHIGAN
1977   26.40 MARQUETTE vs NORTH CAROLINA
1978   25.38 KENTUCKY vs DUKE
1979   35.11 MICHIGAN ST vs INDIANA ST
1980   no data LOUISVILLE vs UCLA
1981   29.06 INDIANA vs NORTH CAROLINA
1982   30.59 NORTH CAROLINA vs GEORGETOWN
1983   32.14 NC STATE vs HOUSTON
1984   25.14 GEORGETOWN vs HOUSTON
1985   31.23 VILLANOVA vs GEORGETOWN
1986   28.71 LOUISVILLE vs DUKE
1987   32.06 INDIANA vs SYRACUSE
1988   26.69 KANSAS vs OKLAHOMA
1989   31.12 MICHIGAN vs SETON HALL
1990   29.26 UNLV vs DUKE
1991   29.02 DUKE vs KANSAS
1992   34.31 DUKE vs MICHIGAN
1993   32.94 NORTH CAROLINA vs MICHIGAN
1994   32.73 ARKANSAS vs DUKE
1995   27.41 UCLA vs ARKANSAS
1996   26.67 KENTUCKY vs SYRACUSE
1997   28.36 ARIZONA vs KENTUCKY
1998   26.60 KENTUCKY vs UTAH
1999   26.30 CONNECTICUT vs DUKE
2000   20.59 MICHIGAN ST vs FLORIDA
2001 8.0 23.87 DUKE vs ARIZONA
2002 8.5 23.69 MARYLAND vs INDIANA
2003 7.2 18.57 SYRACUSE vs KANSAS
2004 8.4 17.09 CONNECTICUT vs GEORGIA TECH
2005 9.7 23.90 NORTH CAROLINA vs ILLINOIS
2006 8.8 17.54 FLORIDA vs UCLA
2007 8.3 19.56 FLORIDA vs OHIO STATE
2008   19.50 KANSAS vs MEMPHIS
2009   17.60 NORTH CAROLINA vs MICHIGAN STATE

  1. NBC televised the game from 1975-1981, CBS from 1982-present.
  2. Since 1975, the NCAA Championship Final game has always been on a Monday night, starting between 8-9pm Eastern until 1991 since then it's started at 9:15 Eastern every year except 1995 when it started at 8:30pm.
  3. 2006 & 2007 data above is Live+SD, all other data is Live viewing.

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 
  • kayarn

    a lot also has to do with these games not being very good, but the kansas/syracuse game was a classic and that had low viewership.

    so its most likely the fact that people can get their college basketball fix during the course of the regular season, the endless barrage of selection sunday coverage, the hype over the first weekend, etc. by the time championship monday roles around, the hype is long gone and the interest just isn't there.

  • kayarn

    a lot also has to do with these games not being very good, but the kansas/syracuse game was a classic and that had low viewership.

    so its most likely the fact that people can get their college basketball fix during the course of the regular season, the endless barrage of selection sunday coverage, the hype over the first weekend, etc. by the time championship monday roles around, the hype is long gone and the interest just isn’t there.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    You make some good points Kayarn. The ratings decrease in the finals may well be dwarfed by cumulative ratings increases, at least during the first week. Unfortunately, we don’t have historical data for that :(

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    You make some good points Kayarn. The ratings decrease in the finals may well be dwarfed by cumulative ratings increases, at least during the first week. Unfortunately, we don't have historical data for that :(

  • Ron

    1995 was about the time players began staying in school only one year or bypassing college completely to go to the NBA. I used to be a die-hard college hoops fan, but now couldn’t name more than 10 players. Why? With early defections, it’s like I have to re-learn the majority of the players for some of the elite programs.

  • Ron

    1995 was about the time players began staying in school only one year or bypassing college completely to go to the NBA. I used to be a die-hard college hoops fan, but now couldn't name more than 10 players. Why? With early defections, it's like I have to re-learn the majority of the players for some of the elite programs.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    Ron, kayarn, 1995 was the year Kevin Garnett was drafted directly from high school, the first player to have that distinction.

    While I’m not sure we can say that’s a statistically significant bit of data, I’m willing to go with it as being the start of the championship game ratings slide.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    Ron, kayarn, 1995 was the year Kevin Garnett was drafted directly from high school, the first player to have that distinction.

    While I'm not sure we can say that's a statistically significant bit of data, I'm willing to go with it as being the start of the championship game ratings slide.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Moses Malone predates KG by two decades! Of course Malone did sign a letter of intent with University of Md before bailing for the ABA (Utah drafted him) and if you don’t want to count the ABA, I suppose nobody would hold that against you.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Moses Malone predates KG by two decades! Of course Malone did sign a letter of intent with University of Md before bailing for the ABA (Utah drafted him) and if you don't want to count the ABA, I suppose nobody would hold that against you.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    Indeed, Garnett was the first player drafted by the NBA ;)

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    Indeed, Garnett was the first player drafted by the NBA ;)

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    No, I think Daryl Dawkins was in 1975 (drafted out of high school by the Philadelphia 76ers). Though there was a 20 year hiatus after that. Actually a few players who enrolled but never played a college game snuck in (Shawn Kemp comes to mind), but I think KG was the first after Dawkins to go officially from high school to the NBA.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    No, I think Daryl Dawkins was in 1975 (drafted out of high school by the Philadelphia 76ers). Though there was a 20 year hiatus after that. Actually a few players who enrolled but never played a college game snuck in (Shawn Kemp comes to mind), but I think KG was the first after Dawkins to go officially from high school to the NBA.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    pure speculation, but perhaps Nielsen started measuring average viewers differently. CBS claims 40 million watched last year’s final, but the Nielsen info we get is for average viewers throughout the entire telecast.

    CBS also claims that some 130 million take in at least some NCAA coverage over the course of the tourney. That’s a big deal.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    pure speculation, but perhaps Nielsen started measuring average viewers differently. CBS claims 40 million watched last year's final, but the Nielsen info we get is for average viewers throughout the entire telecast.

    CBS also claims that some 130 million take in at least some NCAA coverage over the course of the tourney. That's a big deal.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    Speculation is what keeps us going! ;)

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    Speculation is what keeps us going! ;)

  • kayarn

    i root for temple (in for the first time since 01!!) and we rarely have players leave early.

    the solution: dont root for duke, unc, etc. root for a smaller school with limited exposure and you wont have problems with kids leaving early.

  • kayarn

    i root for temple (in for the first time since 01!!) and we rarely have players leave early.

    the solution: dont root for duke, unc, etc. root for a smaller school with limited exposure and you wont have problems with kids leaving early.

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