Holding Court: Cable Limited Final Four TV Audiences, But UNC-Duke Reached Rare Territory

Cable Limited Final Four TV Auditors, But UNC-Duke Reached Rare Areas

Written by David Glenn

After more than 100 years of competition and 257 head-to-head matches, Duke and North Carolina finally met in the NCAA Championship for the first time Saturday night.

A huge segment of American sports fans noticed.

Carolina fans will likely remember the Tar Heels’ 81-77 win forever, in large part because it sent legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski into retirement, exactly four weeks after the Heels destroyed their last Coach K game at Cameron Indoor.

Television executives will celebrate the unforgettable Duke and Carolina game in New Orleans for a variety of reasons.

Although final numbers were low due to the fact that this year’s Final Four was broadcast on Turner Sports’ cable outlets (TBS, TNT, truTV), rather than its usual home on network television (CBS in recent decades), Tar Heels and The The Blue Devils are still making history.

Watch more of the UNC-Duke semi-finals from the UNC-Kansas final

It is extremely rare, in the history of American sports, that a semi-final draws an audience larger than that of a championship match played the same year in the same sport.

That’s exactly what Duke and Carolina’s unprecedented quarter-final match did.

think about it. The Super Bowl, which is responsible for most TV viewers (sports or otherwise), often attracts a TV/streaming audience of over 100 million here in the United States. In any given year, AFC and NFC COMBINED championship games don’t usually come close to the numbers for a title match alone.

Almost the same concept applies uniformly to other professional leagues and college sports.

In college football, for example, going back to the creation of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998 (and possibly much longer) and during the first eight years of College Football Playoff, there was only one instance in which a championship game did not have the largest audience in the entire sports season. .

At the end of the pandemic-ridden 2020 college football campaign, both college football semifinal games had slightly larger audiences than the championship game, with Ohio State-Clemson (19.1 million) and Alabama-Nore Dame (18.9 million) outperforming Crimson Tide’s 52 -24 crushing the Buckeyes in title tilt (18.6 million).

Historically, of course, bombings tend to reduce audience size and close games tend to maximize them. The Alabama-Ohio game, in which he led a Tide 38-17 midway through the third quarter, is the least-watched championship game in BCS or CFP history.

The UNC’s 81-77 victory over Duke and the 72-69 loss to Kansas was near the end, and the matches went into the last minute one on both occasions, but somehow the rivalry between Duke and Carolina (plus coach K.’s retirement) enabled Davis’ journey Brilliant first-year coaching and talent of NBA caliber landed a semi-final match to attract an even larger audience than the NCAA Championship game.

Estimates for this year’s final TV/streaming audience were close, but they made history. The Carolina Duke semifinalists came in with 18.5 million, while the Kansas United Nations Command Final came in at 18.1 million. Saturday’s other semi-final match, at Kansas Villanova, had just 11.7 million viewers.

While it is difficult to find Final Four television numbers for many tournament games held prior to 1975, for most semifinal games prior to 2000, Duke-Carolina is one of the only (and perhaps the only) untitled games that have attracted the public. Launching a larger audience than a national championship game in the same college basketball season.

UNC Basketball, NCAA Championships, Armando Bacot, Brady Mannick (Image via Todd Millett)

UNC-Duke No. 2 in cable history, likely top 50 for 2022

With a very important distinction from network television, the UNC-Duke National Semifinals broadcast by Turner Sports channels and streams attracted the second-largest college basketball audience in the history of CABLE TV, which has been an important part of sports broadcasting since the 1980s.

The Duke-Carolina game will also likely finish among America’s 50 most-watched television events (sports or non-sports, cable or network) for 2022, and one of the few non-NFL entries on the list. For decades, NFL broadcasts have dominated that list every year.

The only college basketball broadcast on cable with an audience larger than the Carolina Duke and UNC’s was in KS from this year’s Final Four in 2015, when Turner Sports broadcast the national semifinal game but CBS took over the NCAA Championship game.

The semifinals in Kentucky and Wisconsin drew an audience for Turner Sports of 22.6 million in 2015, a much larger number than Duke-Michigan State’s semifinal audience (15.3 million) that year.

Meanwhile, calendar year 2022 still has nearly nine months to go, of course, but Duke-Carolina’s 18.5 million audience could (barely) break the 2021 Top 50 list. Again, that’s compared to all US TV shows States, meaning sports or non-sports, cable or net, etc., and college basketball don’t always make the cut.

Last year, for example, the Top 50 consisted of 41 NFL games, all three college football competitions, two Summer Olympics broadcast from Tokyo, the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and Biden’s speech In front of Congress, and Massey’s Day on Thanksgiving. Parade, and an episode of The Equalizer (which followed the Super Bowl on CBS).

Only two college basketball games made the Top 100 last year: the Baylor-Gonzaga title (#70 at 16.9 million) and the Gonzaga-UCLA semifinals (100th at 14.9 million). Both were broadcast on CBS.

Duke and Carolina could have been a lot bigger on CBS

It’s impossible to know for sure, of course, but if the Carolina-Duke and UNC-Kansas games had been shown on CBS, which has broadcast all but three NCAA games since 1981, its audience would have been significantly larger. . A reasonable general rule is that viewership would have been 25 percent higher on CBS.

For example, the 10 most recent NCAA title games broadcast on CBS drew an average audience of 21.5 million. Although only a small sample, the three National Championship matches (2016, 2018, 2022) broadcast by Turner Sports drew an average audience of 17.3 million.

(Side note: In the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s, the NCAA Championship game often drew a television audience of over 30 million, but it hasn’t reached that number since 1994.)

According to industry estimates, there will be more than 122 million TV homes in the United States here in 2022. However, thanks to wire-cutters and wire-cutters, the number of pay-TV households has fallen to less than 80 million, from a peak of more than 100 million in 2011. This means Turner Sports channels (TBS, TNT, truTV) and other cable TV options have a much smaller potential audience than CBS and other free-to-air networks.

For example, TBS and TNT had about 80 million subscribers in 2000, and it grew to more than 101 million subscribers over a period of about a decade ago, but has gradually declined to nearly 80 million.

next timeBy: Hubert Davis and Building the UNC Brand.


David Glenn (DavidGlennShow.com, Tweet embed) is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer, and university lecturer (now at the University of North Carolina Wilmington) and has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987.

Founding editor and longtime owner of ACC Sports Journal and ACCSports.com, he has also contributed to Durham Herald-Sun, ESPN Radio, New York Times, Washington Post, Raycom Sports, SiriusXM, and most recently The Athletic. From 1999 to 2020, he also hosted The David Glenn Show, which became the largest sports radio show in Carolina history, compiled in more than 300 North Carolina cities and towns, as well as parts of South Carolina and Virginia.


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