An average of 18.1 million people watched the Kansas Jayhawks’ thrilling win over the North Carolina Tar Heels on Monday, making it the most-watched NCAA men’s basketball championship game on cable TV, Turner Sports announced Tuesday, topping last year’s broadcast despite not appearing on network TV.
Viewership for the men’s title match, simulcast on Turner’s cable channels TBS, TNT and truTV, was up more than 4% from last year’s Gonzaga/Baylor match on CBS.
Monday’s game was the third-most-watched college basketball game in cable TV history, behind Saturday night’s Duke/UNC Final Four game (which drew 18.5 million viewers) and the Wisconsin/Kentucky Final Four match of 2015 (which holds the cable record with 22.6 million spectators, according to at the Associated Press).
The March Madness men’s tournament has averaged 10.7 million total viewers this year, up 13% from 2021, and has garnered the highest audience share – or proportion of total 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 years and CBS will host games in odd years through 2032.
Since that deal was signed, ratings have generally jumped when CBS — a broadcast network that typically gets higher ratings than its cable competitors — airs the championship game, but this past two years marks the first in which Turner outperformed his network television counterpart. , as CBS only drew 16.9 million viewers in 2021.
What we don’t know
It’s unclear why Saturday’s Final Four game topped Monday’s championship game. Viewers may have tuned in to see what turned out to be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game, as the 75-year-old was due to retire at the end of the season after 42 years at head of the Blue Devils. Duke, one of the nation’s premier basketball programs, also participated in the 2015 Final Four game which broke the record for most-watched men’s college basketball game on cable.
Prior to the most recent broadcast deal, the NCAA Men’s Championship had aired on CBS for decades, and viewership had typically ranged between 17 million and 24 million since the early 2000s. according to at 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 on NBC. This game heralded a decade-long rivalry between future Hall of Famers Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.
Some 12.5 million viewers listening Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals last July, about a third less than its college equivalent brought on Monday night. Overall, the Men’s March Madness in 2022 eclipsed last year’s NBA Playoffs, drawing 10.7 million viewers on average, compared to just 4.3 million average NBA Playoff viewers in 2021. .