Monday night’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament final will be broadcast across three Turner Broadcast cable networks, but even that exposure can’t ensure a ratings success for the championship matchup between Michigan and Villanova in San Antonio.
Turner Sports and CBS Sports officials say the two Final Four games drew an average of 13.4 million viewers across the cable networks and primary streaming app where it aired.
That’s down from an average of 16.8 million viewers who watched the national semifinal games on the broadcast flagship CBS last year. Gonzaga beat South Carolina and North Carolina beat Oregon, both in close games, last year in what was the second-most viewed Final Four in the last 19 years.
Villanova’s Phil Booth (right) had 10 points and six assists in the Final Four against Kansas
Michigan Wolverines fans cheer during practice before the Final Four of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Alamodome on Saturday night in San Antonio
Michigan’s win over Loyola-Chicago and Villanova’s defeat of Kansas aired on TBS as well as TNT and truTV, which carried team-specific telecasts. The games were also streamed on March Madness Live. Michigan pulled away late to be beat Loyola 69-57, and then the Wildcats blew out the Jayhawks 95-79 in a game that was never close.
Network officials say the numbers are up compared with two years ago, when the Final Four last aired on cable rather than CBS.
Even without tournament Cinderella, 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago, the NCAA Final still offers an underdog story angle for basketball fans.
When the AP Top 25 preseason men’s basketball poll came out, Villanova was a very respectable No. 6.
Michigan, however, was an afterthought.
The Wolverines were unranked when this season began, and didn’t even crack the Top 25 for the first time until mid-January. Michigan was 39th in the preseason poll balloting, behind seven ranked teams that wouldn’t even end up making the NCAA Tournament – No. 10 USC, No. 14 Notre Dame, No. 15 Minnesota, No. 16 Louisville, No. 19 Northwestern, No. 22 Saint Mary’s, No. 24 Baylor.
Michigan wasn’t the only big preseason poll whiff: Virginia ended the regular season ranked No. 1, and the Cavaliers were also unranked to start the season.
Only four teams in the last 50 years started the season unranked and won the NCAA title – UConn in 2011, Florida in 2006, Syracuse in 2003 and Villanova in 1985.
Marques Townes of the Loyola Ramblers drives to the basket against Ibi Watson of the Michigan Wolverines in the first half during the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four Semifinal