If indeed this was the last March Madness Tournament to be shown exclusively on over-the-air TV, Duke's last-second win over Butler gave CBS a nice parting gift -- the most watched championship game this decade.
Over 48 million fans tuned in to at least some of Duke's 61-59 win over Butler, the most since 50 million saw Arizona and Kentucky in 1997. The game drew a 14.2 rating and averaged 23.9 million viewers, which makes it the most-viewed since Duke/Arizona in '01 (24.0 mil).
The fact that Duke's win over Butler went down literally to the last second helped it pull better ratings than every Major League Baseball game since 2004 and every NBA contest since 2002.
For CBS, the Blue Devils were the Saviors in this tournament. Duke's games consistently rated higher in their time slots this year compared to last year. For instance, the game drew a healthy 11.7 rating with over 900,000 viewers in the Los Angeles market. That was up 65% from last year's contest, and the highest rated game in the L.A. market since UCLA played Florida in 2006.
While the ratings have increased over the past two years, the tournament has dramatically declined in total viewership this decade. From 1975-1999, the Championship game usually drew an average of 30 million viewers.
A couple of positive factors this year for CBS and the NCAA were that CBS's coverage of the entire three weeks of March Madness was up five percent over last year with 134.3 million having watched some part of the tournament. That's the most sine 141.7 million tuned in during the 2005 event. CBS also saw a dramatic increase in other platforms, with over 8 million viewers logging on to watch almost 12 million hours of live video streaming. That was a 36% increase from last year.
The NCAA has an opt out clause that could be taken as soon as the end of this month, and CBS, facing balloon payments totaling over $2 Billion for the final three years on the contract, has mixed feelings over that possibility. ESPN obviously is ready to bid for March Madness, and CBS reportedly is teaming up with TNT to put together a bid package as well.
Expanding the event to 96 teams offers more content, and potentially as much or more dollars as the current $6 Billion CBS deal. The tournament may be over, but games are just beginning for the NCAA and its broadcast partners.