NCAA Tournament

UConn-Kentucky Ratings Hurt by Lack of Busted Bracket Viewers

Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright, left, fights for a loose ball with Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip
Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2014

Monday's NCAA tournament championship game between Connecticut and Kentucky didn't provide a last-second game-winner or any sort of record performance, but it was still a great way to cap one of the most exciting tourneys in recent memory.

Viewers didn't think the same, though.

UConn's 60-54 victory over Kentucky drew 21.2 million viewers, according to CBS Sports (h/t The Wrap). That's down 9.4 percent from last year's Louisville-Michigan final, which drew 23.4 million, but ahead of the ratings for the 2011 and 2012 title games.

Despite the presence of two of the most well-known programs in college basketball—both of which had won NCAA titles in the past four years—the ratings for the final went against the grain compared to the numbers brought in for the rest of the tournament.

Though competition from shows like NBC's The Voice and ABC's Dancing with the Stars might have had some impact on the ratings, another contributing factor could have been bracket apathy. UConn was a No. 7 seed and Kentucky a No. 8, marking the highest combined number for the title game seeds in NCAA history.

Comparing NCAA Title Game Matchups To Ratings
YearMatchupCombined Seed ValueOvernight TV Rating
2014Connecticut-Kentucky1512.9
2013Louisville-Michigan514.3
2012Kansas-Kentucky312.1
2011Butler-Connecticut1113.3
2010Duke-Butler616.0
SportsMediaWatch.com

While diehard college hoops fans will likely watch no matter who is playing, the ratings for big-ticket events like the title game tend to get a huge boost from casual fans. And for March Madness, a source of casual fandom is in the form of bracket-fillers.

According to USA Today's For the Win, only 1,780 of the roughly 11 million people who participated in ESPN's Tournament Challenge contest picked that matchup, accounting for just 0.016 percent of the brackets.

Without the possibility of winning an office pool or some other bracket-related contest to draw in viewers, Monday's final drew more of a core audience. Though UConn and Kentucky have strong followings, it wasn't enough to boost the ratings like a game involving Duke—which tends to draw both lovers and haters of the Blue Devils—or a pair of No. 1 seeds.

Sports Media Watch's Paulsen also noted an interesting trend in recent overnight ratings for NCAA finals, particularly ones involving Kentucky coach John Calipari:

While the title game didn't draw as big an audience as hoped, overall the 2014 NCAA tournament was the most-watched tournament in several years. Entering the Final Four, ratings were tied for the best since 2008, according to Sports Media Watch, while viewership was at its highest mark since 1993. 

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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