Final Four Ratings Review

On Saturday night, we were treated to two excellent Final Four games. The first game, Butler vs. VCU, featured underdog vs. underdog, two team that all college basketball fans could get behind. The second game, UConn vs. Kentucky, was on the other end of the spectrum, featuring two perennial juggernauts, even if each of them was “only” a 3 or 4 seed. Both games featured tremendous athletes, talented coaches and great storylines.

According to this morning’s Sports Business Daily, Saturday’s pair of games was the highest rated Final Four since 2005. If you look at each game separately, the Butler/VCU game, which ran from 6-8:30PM, had an 8.3 rating with 14.2 million viewers, while the Kentucky/UConn game, which ran from 8:45-11:15PM, had a 9.5 rating with 16.7 million viewers. So, this leads me to ask, why did the 2nd game do so much better? There are several factors that impact ratings, so let’s see if we can figure this out.

  1. Time of Day: On a Saturday night, the best ratings usually take place between 8 and 9PM. The two games straddled this time period, so this shouldn’t have affected things much.
  2. Media Market Size: In general, networks love it when teams from large markets play for a title because the size of that market can dramatically impact ratings. In this case, all four schools are from relatively small markets, so none of these market would affect this.
  3. Fan Base: Here’s our first difference. UConn and Kentucky have a much longer basketball history than Butler or VCU, so the size of their relative fan bases would tilt ratings towards the 2nd game.
  4. Public Interest: This is another category that can go either way. The public tends to watch teams they are more familiar with, but at the same time, March Madness is driven by underdogs and Cinderella stories.
  5. Lead-In Programming: This is the underrated factor in my opinion. A strong lead-in program will lead to carryover viewing, and in this case, with Butler/VCU generating so much interest, some of that had to positively impact the 2nd game’s ratings.

With all of those factors in mind, I wonder how the ratings might have been different if the games had been in the other order. Would UConn and Kentucky fans been more or less likely to stay tuned in for the Butler/VCU game? Which game truly had more public interest?

Finally, with UConn and Butler advancing to the championship game, will this match-up generate record ratings for CBS? Would Kentucky or VCU have been better? We’ll see tonight!