Oakland's Jack Gohlke against Kentucky in an opening-round NCAA Tournament game. Mar 21, 2024; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Oakland Golden Grizzlies guard Jack Gohlke (3) reacts to a play during the second half in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The early numbers for 2024 NCAA Tournament viewership are in, and they’re very good. Earlier Friday, we covered how Tuesday and Wednesday’s First Four saw double-digit increases over 2023. And later Friday, TNT Sports and CBS Sports announced how Thursday’s opening round games posted the highest average audience since 2015:

As Jon Lewis noted at Sports Media Watch, a lot of that viewership came from the 14th-seeded Oakland Golden Grizzlies’s upset of the Kentucky Wildcats. That set its own records:

Thursday’s Oakland-Kentucky NCAA men’s basketball tournament first round game averaged a 3.4 rating and 6.21 million viewers on CBS, marking the largest audience for an opening round game since Zion Williamson-led Duke against North Dakota State in 2019 (6.22M) and second-largest under the television format that began in 2011. (Results for Thursday’s two afternoon games on CBS were not immediately available, but it is highly unlikely they would rank higher.)

The Golden Grizzlies’ upset win increased up 70% in ratings and 81% in viewership from Duke-Oral Roberts in the same window last year (2.0, 3.43M) and 9% and 14% respectively from Kentucky’s opening round loss to Saint Peter’s in the same window two years ago (3.1, 5.46M).

Lewis also noted year-over-year ratings drops for the other games in that afternoon window. Those were Texas-Colorado State with 2.51 million viewers on TNT, Gonzaga-McNeese State with 1.12 million on TBS, and Iowa State-South Dakota State with 874,000 on truTV,  down 27, 35 and 45 percent respectively from corresponding games in those windows on those networks in 2023. But those drops were more than offset by the rise for the the Oakland-Kentucky game, with the full window there averaging 10.71 million viewers, up five percent from last year.

The start here is obviously positive for CBS parent Paramount Global and TNT Sports parent Warner Bros. Discovery, especially after a lot of pre-tournament discussion on how there seemed to be less interest in the men’s tournament than the women’s one this year, and after some disappointing regular-season ratings for men’s college basketball (especially relative to the women’s game) this season.

This also builds off a strong performance for the Selection Show, and the aforementioned good numbers for the First Four. But a key question is how the ratings will hold up over the length of the tournament. Last year started well, but wound up with a late-tournament slump and a record low in the title game.

Of course, TNT Sports chair Luis Silberwasser and CBS Sports chair Sean McManus both weren’t too worried about ratings in a pre-tournament call. There, they cited massive advertiser demand despite the ratings, and attributed those ratings to particular late-tournament matchups involving less-followed teams. But they’ll be happy to see a strong ratings start. We’ll see how that continues as the tournament progresses.

[MM_MBB_TV on Twitter/X, Sports Media Watch]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.