March Madness: 2014 Tourney Second-Biggest Audience Since 2005

Led by Shabazz Napier (pictured), UConn put the finishing touches on the 2014 version of March Madness with a 60-54 over Kentucky in the title game, with CBS and Turner Sports netting the second best average viewership for the tourney since 2005.

CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV combined to average a 6.5 U.S. household rating and 10.5 million viewers per window, according to Nielsen data. That was down 3% from the 6.7 rating from the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship on the four networks, and off 2% from the 10.7 million watchers a year ago. Nevertheless, the 2014 deliveries were the tourney’s best since the 2004 competition.

The UConn-UK title tilt averaged a 12.4 rating and 21.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen fast national data, down 11% and 9%, respectively, from the 14.0 and 23.4 million watchers for Louisville’s tight win over Michigan. Despite the downturn, CBS’s April 7 telecast of the Huskies-Wildcats contest was the third largest National Championship Game audience of the past decade, behind the 23.9 million watchers for North Carolina over Illinois in 2005 and last year’s Cardinals-Wolverines matchup.

The 2014 tourney saw Turner step to the line for the first time with regional finals and Final Four coverage, scheduling that resulted in the four most-watched college basketball telecasts in cable history.

TBS scored a 5.8 national rating and 9.9 million viewers for Wisconsin’s one-point win over Arizona in the West regional final on March 29, which quickly trumped the 4.3 rating and 7.2 million viewers for Florida’s win over Dayton in the Elite Eight matchup earlier that day.

Those Nielsen marks were supplanted with Final Four action on April 5: UConn-Florida netted a 6.9 rating (8.2 cable mark) and 11.7 million watchers and then a 9.2 (11.0 cable) and 16.3 million watchers for Kentucky’s last-second win over Wisconsin.

Those deliveries were down from the 2013 Final Four, which aired on CBS. The 2013 early game between Wichita State and eventual champion Louisville drew 14.5 million viewers, 4% more than the corresponding 2012 contest. The second contest between Syracuse and Michigan grew 3% from 2012 with 17.1 million viewers.

This year's Final Four averaged 14 million viewers, an 11% decline from the 2013 matchups.

The 2014 Final Four game audiences reflected the combination of TBS’s main feed, as well as “Teamcasts” on TNT and truTV. Ads were sold across the telecasts, each of which had its own production and announce teams.

The Nielsen scorecard shows that the Wildcasts-Badgers contest drew 10.4 million viewers on TBS, 4.3 million for the UK teamcast on TNT and 1.56 million for the Wisconsin view on truTV.

For the opener, the count was 7.09 million on TBS, 3.7 million on TNT for Gators fans and 851,000 for Huskies’ supporters on truTV.

The 2015 version of March Madness – the fifth of CBS-Turner’s 14-year, $10.8 billion rights deal to the tourney – will see a repeat of this year’s lineup, relative to Turner presenting the Final Four and CBS airing the National Championship Game. Turner officials said decisions had not yet been made about whether the Teamcasts would return next year.