The 2019 Final Four was without a traditional power for the first time in a long time, with Michigan State being the only real contender for that title. Given that lack of name-brand participation, many expected the ratings to dip a bit for CBS, so at first glance, this press release announcing that ratings were up over last year seems like great news!
Final Four Scores Across All Platforms pic.twitter.com/OuT0qRdSwX
— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) April 7, 2019
Up 13%, look at that! There’s one obvious problem with that particular framing, though: last year’s Final Four was on TBS, and while TBS is widely carried for a cable network, it’s still a cable network. When compared to 2017, when the Final Four was also on CBS, the numbers are actually down.
Here are ratings for every men's #FinalFour game dating back to 1997 (and every national title game dating back to 1975).
Last year on TBS: 7.2 and 6.8 (semis), 9.2 (final)
2017 on CBS: 10.4 and 8.5 (semis), 13.2 (final)https://t.co/bgmuoWisqm
— Sports Media Watch (@paulsen_smw) April 6, 2019
That’s not the end of the world, of course. CBS still won the night easily, and the circumstances obviously aren’t their fault. The games were both entertaining (until Texas Tech pulled away in the final minutes), and from the Sweet 16 on they’ve gotten some very good games, albeit with some unfortunate results with Duke and Kentucky crashing out. Plus, Monday’s championship game promises to be more of a defensive struggle:
Sportsbooks aren’t expecting Monday night’s NCAA tournament title game between Texas Tech and Virginia to be a high-scoring affair. In fact, they’ve posted the lowest over/under total in an NCAA title game in the past 20 years.
Minutes after Texas Tech beat Michigan State 61-51 in Saturday night’s second semifinal, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook opened Virginia as a 1-point favorite in the title game with a total of 120. Virginia edged out Auburn 63-62 following a controversial foul call with 0.6 seconds left in the other semifinal.
By Sunday morning, the total had been bet down to 118 at many sportsbooks and 117.5 at the SuperBook.
A low-scoring slugfest between two teams making their first deep runs in the tournament in recent memory isn’t typically a good recipe for big ratings, which would continue a rough run for CBS and Turner.
Lowest rated National Championship games:
— 2018 Villanova-Michigan: 9.2 (Turner)
— 2016 Villanova-UNC: 10.6 (Turner)
— 2009 UNC-MSU: 10.8 (CBS)
— 2004 UConn-GT: 11.0 (CBS)
— 2006 UF-UCLA: 11.2 (CBS)
— Sports Media Watch (@paulsen_smw) April 7, 2019
But, again, they’re still going to win the night, and they can’t control the outcomes on the court. Plus, the only way to help lessen the reliance on teams like Duke and Kentucky making runs is to have years like this where the country gets to know teams like Virginia and Texas Tech. Gonzaga wouldn’t have been a household name without years of runs, and their 2017 title game against North Carolina earned very solid ratings.