Inside Blitz: Kentucky - Duke National Championship Poised to Set Ratings Records

By Jason McIntyre
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Despite the incessant, understandable rumblings from fans and pundits about how the college basketball product has declined in recent years, and the sport being largely unwatchable this season, there’s excellent news on the horizon for CBS executives: Kentucky reaching the National Championship game – perhaps against Duke – is poised to be one of the most-watched games in the sport’s history.

According to this graphic, Michigan State vs. Indiana State in 1979 – some might call Magic vs. Larry as the birth of modern basketball – pulled in a 24.1 TV rating, the highest of any National Championship game ever. That link says the 2nd highest rated Championship game was one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history – 8th seeded Villanova toppling defending champion Georgetown in 1985 (23.3 rating).

College Basketball was immensely popular in the 80s and 90s, but interest has tailed off in recent decades as players increasingly jumped to the NBA, fundamentals eroded (thanks, AAU basketball!) and scoring declined.

This chart, via TV by the Numbers shows the dropoff:

TV by the Numbers says that the five most-watched games (in millions of viewers) are:

1. Michigan State vs. Indiana State, 1979: 35.11 million
2. Duke vs. Michigan, 1992: 34.31 million
3. North Carolina vs. Michigan, 1993: 32.94 million
4. Arkansas vs. Duke, 1994: 32.73 million
5. NC State vs. Houston, 1983: 32.14 million

If you clicked on the TV by the Numbers link, you’ll notice something ominous: No game has cracked 30 million viewers since 1994; simply cracking 20 million recently has been a success. TV viewing habits for the public have changed significantly in the last 20 years, but the cost of live sporting events are consistently skyrocketing.

Based on the ratings for the 1st weekend of the tournament – the most-watched game was Wichita State vs Kansas, followed by Kentucky vs Cincinnati – and the selection committee putting Duke on the other half of the tournament, I still wouldn’t be surprised if Kentucky vs. Duke approached the 25-30 million viewers figure. Kentucky vs Gonzaga? No way. Kentucky vs. Oklahoma? Nope. Kentucky vs Louisville? That’s always a closely-watched game, but only in the heartland and from a visual standpoint, it’s going to be brutal on the eyes.

CBS is begging for a Kentucky vs. Duke final, that’s for sure. Kentucky going for history, and Duke is Duke. There’s no telling if Duke will get by Utah next, and surely the conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this one, should it come down to a whistle or two.

BOB HUGGINS GIVES GOOD SMACK TALK

The media salivates over 12-5 matchups in the NCAA Tournament – historically, they produce upsets. So when West Virginia opened as a small favorite against Buffalo, the media pounced on beat-up West Virginia as a team that could lose. Huggins noticed two CBS analysts, Doug Gottlieb and Seth Davis, picked Buffalo, and ignored it because he doesn’t put stock in “a guy who couldn’t shoot 50 percent at the free-throw line and another guy who played intramurals at Duke.”

Huggins and Gottlieb hugged it out on the radio Monday.

ODDS & ENDS

This is a pretty fascinating read about the Oklahoma City Thunder media and how poor (or good?) of a job the team’s PR flacks are doing in the battle against them. It stretches back to a point that’s been bubbling up for years: The biggest stars in sports don’t need the media, so why try? With the rise of social media, that’s been the case for years. Tiger Woods has been the blueprint, and Derek Jeter’s website is the next logical step. For the the truly elite athletes, there’s little-to-nothing to be gained from talking to the media … the New York Post’s Steve Mushnick loves Steve Lappas because he hates showboats? … the MLB Network is going to have its first morning show, and it’ll talk Fantasy Baseball, but will it talk Daily Fantasy Baseball? … ouch, Kelly Ripa, that’s cold-blooded to not talk to Regis since he left the show in 2011 … my gosh, Golf Channel, this really happened? … pity all those sites heavily dependent on Facebook for traffic.

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