After remarkable numbers (an estimated average fast nationals audience of 16.3 million viewers across TV and streaming, but without out-of-home viewing) for North Carolina’s 81-72 win over Duke in the Final Four NCAA Tournament men’s basketball semifinals Saturday, there were a lot of predictions that the actual championship game Monday would see a significant viewership drop. After all, North Carolina-Kansas didn’t have the discussion around Coach K’s last game. But the Tar Heels-Jayhawks matchup turned out to be pretty exceptional in its own right, with Kansas erasing a 16-point deficit to win 72-69. And, as per a release from Turner Sports, that game (televised on TBS, TNT, and truTV) was the most-watched NCAA men’s basketball championship game ever on cable, coming in ahead of the fast nationals audience for the semifinals but just behind the semifinal game’s final audience:

CBS Sports and Turner Sports’ exclusive coverage of last night’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship – Kansas defeating North Carolina, 72-69, with the biggest halftime comeback in championship game history – airing across TBS, TNT and truTV produced the most-viewed NCAA Men’s Championship Game telecast ever on cable television. The Kansas/UNC game delivered an average of 18.1 million viewers, based on total audience delivery, an increase of 4% over last year’s national championship (Baylor vs. Gonzaga).

Last night’s Kansas/UNC telecast is the third most-watched college basketball game in cable TV history, with Saturday’s UNC/Duke Final Four National Semifinal matchup (which averaged 18.5 million viewers) ranking second all-time.

…NCAA March Madness Live set multiple all-time records for last night’s Kansas/UNC championship, including the largest audience and most minutes consumed for a single game in MML history. Kansas/UNC netted a peak of 1.6 million concurrent streams, breaking the previous record set just two days prior during the Duke/UNC showdown. This year’s NCAA Men’s Tournament generated the most live uniques for any full tournament in MML history, a 12% increase over the previous record year set in 2019.

This fits into a larger pattern of strong ratings for this year’s men’s basketball tournament. As per Turner’s release, this tournament as a whole saw significant increases:

The 2022 NCAA Men’s Tournament airing across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV averaged 10.7 million total viewers and a 17.0 share (the percentage of households or viewers who are watching television at that time) for its 67 live game telecasts, both up 13% over last year. The 17.0 share is the best for the entire NCAA Men’s Tournament since 1994.

But, beyond the tournament in general increases, it’s certainly notable to see the championship game produce a year-over-year increase versus a broadcast on over-the-air television (Baylor-Gonzaga was on CBS). And that’s especially true in our current increased cord-cutting environment. And it’s notable to see this game stacking up so well against some of the best cable broadcasts in the past. It certainly helped that Kansas and North Carolina are both teams with large national fanbases, and that this game went down to the wire (despite North Carolina threatening to run away with it at one point). But this is still an impressive number, and one Turner will certainly be happy with.

[March Madness Men’s Basketball TV on Twitter; photo from Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports]

 

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.