The No. 3 Michigan Wolverines’ 92-87 win over the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes Sunday on CBS (which began at 1 p.m. ET) drew an average of 2.63 million viewers. That’s notable as the most-watched NCAA men’s basketball regular-game on any network this season and CBS’ most-watched regular-season game since March 2019:
— CBS Sports PR (@CBSSportsGang) February 23, 2021
This would have been the second-highest game last season, behind only ESPN’s coverage of a Feb. 8 Duke-UNC game (2.67 million viewers) and well ahead of ESPN’s coverage of a Nov. 6 Kansas-Duke game (2.42 million viewers). CBS’ best game last year was a Dec. 21 Ohio State-Kentucky clash, which averaged 2.21 million viewers (fifth overall). So this stands up pretty well compared to all college basketball in the past few years, and it particularly shines compared to some previous games for CBS.
The general college basketball trend this year hasn’t been as impressive, though. As per a post from Paulsen at Sports Media Watch a couple weeks back, the Feb. 6 Duke-UNC game on ESPN (a 91-87 UNC win) averaged just 1.87 million viewers, the lowest audience for a game between those teams since at least 2007 and a 30 percent drop from last season’s first game between the teams. (Those teams’ struggles this season didn’t help.)
The Tennessee-Kentucky game that followed that Duke-UNC clash drew 1.57 million viewers, a 48 percent decline from last year. And the highest-viewed game this season at that point was an Oklahoma-Kansas game on Fox that had a NFL playoff lead-in and still only averaged 2 million viewers, which wouldn’t have made the Top 10 last year. So it will be interesting to see if Michigan-Ohio State was an anomaly or if it tells a broader story about improving CBB ratings as the NCAA tournament approaches.