By Brian Hughes
For the second year in a row, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has proven to be a highly unpredictable one, defying fans’ and experts’ opinions, and busting a lot of brackets across the country. Some of the biggest stories to emerge thus far include defending champions Baylor losing to number eight seed UNC in the second round and underdog Saint Peter’s University (a number 15 seed) beating both Kentucky and Murray State to advance to the Sweet 16.
In terms of broadcast and cable viewership, upsets and close games are always good for driving viewer interest, and thus far audience levels are pacing ahead of last year’s tournament among most key demos, with the exception of adults 18-34 (a trend that has been consistent across live sports telecasts). Among adults 50+, viewing has even been on par with the pre-COVID 2019 tournament, though it is the only demographic segment for which that is the case.
Looking at ratings by round, the First Four games were down compared to last year’s, likely due to the anticipation that had built up in 2021 after the tournament was cancelled in 2020. This year’s opener did still come in ahead of 2019, however. Moving on to the first round, audiences slipped compared to both 2019 and 2021, though for most demos, declines stayed within the single digit range. The second round bounced back strongly, seeing 20-30% percent increases across the board relative to last year but still falling short of 2019. It did have the advantage of all games once again airing over the weekend, whereas last year some second round broadcasts ran on Monday.
The Michigan State versus Duke game on Sunday March 20 was the most-watched of the tournament thus far, as fans pulled for legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to bring home the trophy in his final season before retirement. Coach K and the Blue Devils did ultimately advance to the Sweet 16. Michigan’s second round upset of the number two-seeded Tennessee Volunteers came in second, with a close contest between Creighton and Kansas rounding out the top three.