The NCAA Tournament continues to reach new heights in popularity.  Even though there are questions surrounding the relevancy of regular season college basketball, March Madness is an event that captivates the entire nation for three weekends in the early spring.  The tournament once again saw a ratings increase for CBS & Turner, reaching its highest average rating in 23 years, since the tournament expanded to its current format.  More from Turner Sports…

"CBS Sports and Turner Sports’ exclusive live coverage of the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV is averaging a 6.3/14 overnight rating/share, the highest rating for the opening week of the NCAA Tournament in 23 years, when the tournament expanded to its current format, according to Nielsen metered market ratings.

The networks’ combined coverage, from the NCAA First Four to the completion of the third round, is up 5% vs. last year’s comparable 6.0/13 rating.

Turner Sports and CBS Sports’ exclusive third round coverage on Sunday, March 24 – across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV – averaged an overnight household rating/share of 7.6/15, the highest rating for the first Sunday of the NCAA Tournament in 20 years (8.5/20 in 1993). This year’s rating/share is up 19% compared with a 6.4/13 in 2012."

Considering the sheer tonnage of games, the fact that tournament coverage maintained such a high average rating is astounding.  A 6.4 rating isn't going to blow away the NFL Playoffs or NBA Finals, but with 12 hours of coverage per day and multiple games on multiple networks, it's a very impressive number.  

CBS also benefitted by turning to the "overrated" Big Ten for their Saturday and Sunday afternoon windows.  Michigan and Michigan State were the centerpieces Saturday afternoon and Ohio State and Indiana took the stage Sunday.  More importantly though, the Sunday games both went down to the wire.  OSU's victory over Iowa State was the highest rated game in that window was the highest rated since 2002.  Indiana's win over Temple was the highest rated since 2006.  Both were up 20% or more from last year and both were decided by three pointers in the final minute.

The tournament has broken perfectly for CBS and Turner.  Last second shots for Ohio State and La Salle and Marquette.  Controversy.  Upsets aplenty.  Cinderella stories.  And in spite of how much fun we have at truTV's expense, the format is a gift from the gods for sports fans.  With every game in its entirety on every channel, CBS and Turner put you in charge of what you want to see.  Cleraly, you've responded by tuning in with record ratings.  

With some of the biggest draws in the sport (Duke, Indiana, Ohio State, Kansas) and incredible  Cinderella storylines (Florida Gulf Coast, La Salle), expect these ratings to only increase as we hit the second weekend of the tournament.  

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.