CBS’ Sean McManus on March Madness: I’m Not Worrying About Ratings Being Down

Sean McManus CBS Sports March Madness
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus taking about the NCAA Tournament

Despite pandemic viewership dropping for big sports events including the Super Bowl and the NBA All Star Game, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said he expected the ratings for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to be “perfectly fine.”

Speaking on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday, McManus said he doesn’t make predictions about ratings. But he noted that over the 10 years that CBS has partnered with Turner Sports to televise the tournament, “sometimes the ratings are a little bit down, and sometimes they’re a little bit up, and that depends on how close the games are and which teams advance throughout the tournament.”

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He added: "I’m not hanging my head and worrying about the fact that ratings may be down. I think if we get a good tournament, I think the ratings will be perfectly fine.”

One barometer of the likely level of viewership for the tournament has been advertising sales, “Our sales have been remarkably strong,” McManus said, with commercials in the games just about sold out. “I think the advertisers will be satisfied with the amount of men and women who see their commercials,” he said.

McManus and Jeff Zucker, chairman of sports and news at AT&T’s WarnerMedia, noted that last year’s NCAA basketball tournament was among the first events cancelled because of the pandemic and that they were looking forward to its return.

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Because of the pandemic, this year’s tournament will be held entirely in Indiana. There will be a limited number of people in the stands and production crews will be taking precautions to avoid catching and spreading the virus.

This will be the 10th year CBS and Turner have shared the Tournament. CBS will have this year's Final Four and Championship game.

Some popular teams--such as Kentucky and Duke--may not qualify for this year’s tournament, which could impact ratings.

“You want the big name brands obviously in the tournament if you can have them but I think what happens every year is that stories emerge and it's the stories that emerge that really make up the make up the tournament and keep people interested,” McManus said. 

“The traditional powerhouses . . . help your ratings, but we’re going to focus on the teams that are in there and the stories that are in there. And if the tournament develops as it always seems to, I think we’ll do fine from a viewership standpoint,” he said. "There's still plenty of stories and plenty of high-profile teams that are going to be showcased on Turner and CBS.”  

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.