Why is the NCAA Basketball National Championship on TBS?

Tonight, Villanova and North Carolina will face off for the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship – but you won’t see it on CBS. For the first time ever, college basketball will crown its national champion on cable, with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill calling the action on TBS (and slanted “team stream” coverage of each team on TNT and truTV). How did this happen? Why was the NCAA willing and able to take the smaller audience of cable? Well, I gave the short answer in my book, The Game to Show the Games:

By 2010 CBS wanted to get out from under a contract to air the NCAA Tournament that was set to lose it considerable amounts of money each year, to the point of engaging in talks to get ESPN to take it off its hands. Certainly the NCAA was very interested in moving most of the tournament to cable, which not only had the potential to increase the rights fees the NCAA collected but also allowed every game to be shown nationally, without the regionalization CBS had engaged in. CBS ended up retaining the tournament by forming an alliance with Turner to show games on TBS, TNT, and truTV in addition to the CBS broadcast network. Turner had never shown college basketball before and truTV, once known as Court TV, had never shown sports of any kind before, but Turner, which was paying a larger portion of the rights fee, went so far as to start alternating the Final Four with CBS starting in 2016 (later negotiations allowed TBS to show the national semifinals in 2014 and 2015 while the national championship game remained on CBS).

The long answer? You’ll have to get the book for that, and for how television money has completely upended the world of sports over the last decade, especially since the BCS blazed this trail with its 2008 agreement with ESPN, how the race for sports rights has changed the TV industry in turn, and how it might all prove to be built on a house of cards that might already be tumbling down. For this week only, until Friday, April 8th, you can get it for Kindle absolutely FREE, or you can buy the paperback at most online booksellers anytime. By the time you’re done reading, you might wish you hadn’t watched the game at all.

How Kentucky May Have Saved Turner From Another Teamcast Fiasco

Last year Turner, in their first year airing the Final Four, decided to supplement their main coverage on TBS with two “teamcast” feeds on TNT and truTV, offering team-centric coverage of each team in each game. The result, however, was people turning on the teamcasts thinking they were the main feed and complaining about the “biased” announcers. So as much as Turner may have publicly proclaimed the Teamcasts a “success”, when they announced they would be repeating the Teamcasts this year, it was clear they would need to do more to direct people to the main feed on TBS and let them know what the purpose of the Teamcasts actually were, whether over the previous rounds of the tournament or at the Final Four itself.

Kentucky may have just done more to achieve that goal than anything Turner did or could do itself.

One of the more noteworthy elements of the Teamcast fiasco was that the vast majority of complaining tweets concerned the TNT Teamcast, and TNT’s viewership far outpaced truTV’s viewership for both teamcast games, making up a substantial chunk of the viewership for both games. Because of this, a leading theory for the cause of the Teamcast fiasco, or at least a factor that might have exacerbated it, was that people associated TNT with “the basketball channel”, not making the association Turner wanted them to make with TBS as the network for college basketball. To me, this only made sense if it only applied to those people that hadn’t watched TBS’ coverage of the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight; if they had watched those games, they could have probably figured out that TBS was airing games in rounds TNT wasn’t, and was likely to continue doing so into the Final Four. But the numbers back that up as well: TBS’ Elite Eight games last year had viewership numbers of 9.97 million and 7.2 million. The Final Four games had audiences of 10.39 million and 7.1 million on TBS alone. In other words, Kentucky/Wisconsin didn’t improve much over the Elite Eight numbers on TBS alone, and Connecticut/Florida did worse on TBS alone than either Elite Eight game. The Teamcast confusion primarily affected people parachuting in for the Final Four without necessarily having watched much of anything from the earlier rounds.

Fast forward to this year, when Kentucky played Notre Dame in a thrilling fight to the finish with Kentucky’s perfect season on the line on TBS. The result was a game that attracted an 8.4 household rating and 14.7 million viewers, the highest-rated and most-watched college basketball game on a single network in cable history (which opens up a whole other can of gripes for me, but whatever). That’s 14.7 million viewers with no choice but to turn on TBS to watch the game, and 19.7 million tuning in during the quarter-hour starting at 10:45 PM. To put that in perspective, Connecticut-Florida only attracted 11.65 million viewers last year across all networks, while Kentucky-Wisconsin attracted 16.25 million.

How many of those millions of people that turned on TBS to watch Kentucky-Notre Dame will now know to turn on TBS to watch the Final Four? We’ll know in a week’s time how this year’s Teamcast (or “Team Stream” as it’s being billed this year) works out; ideally both games would see the vast majority of their audience flip to TBS and leave tiny portions of the audience on TNT and truTV. But if Duke-Michigan State sees most of its audience turn on TBS, but Kentucky-Wisconsin sees only about 13 million or so people turn on TBS, we’ll know any improvement in TBS’ numbers vis-a-vis the teamcasts will have had more to do with the Kentucky-Notre Dame game than anything intentional on CBS or Turner’s part. Even that, though, would still be a massive improvement over last year.

2014 College Basketball Postseason Ratings Roundup

This post is going to be a little more useful than last week’s. Here are ratings for all 67 games of the NCAA Tournament, every game of the NIT on traditional television, and every game or coverage window of the women’s tournament. The top four games of the tournament all involved Kentucky; their Elite 8 and third round games both did better than the other Final Four game, though curiously the much-hyped matchup between Kentucky and Louisville not only did worse than all those games, but another third-round game involving North Carolina. Kentucky was also involved in the most-watched second-round game. Only two NCAA Tournament games not on truTV did worse than the most watched NIT game, the championship game. Meanwhile, the top seven women’s games involved at least one of the two undefeated teams, Connecticut or Notre Dame.

CBS numbers from Sports Media Watch, Turner and ESPN numbers from Son of the Bronx. 18-49 numbers, when available, from TVbytheNumbers and The Futon Critic. Click here to learn more about how to read the charts.

Read more2014 College Basketball Postseason Ratings Roundup

2013-14 College Basketball Ratings Roundup

In honor of the start of the college basketball season, here are last year’s college basketball ratings!

Getting nailed on the Olympics is one thing, getting nailed on college basketball is quite another. SportsBusiness Daily had two different weeks where they didn’t get any CBS numbers in time for their deadline, and Sports Media Watch didn’t get numbers for the total of four college basketball windows that were affected by that for its own college basketball ratings roundup. The highest of the four games’ overnights I estimated would have finished with around a 1.7 final household rating, which is high enough that I’m only listing the top ten regular-season college basketball ratings of the year. I am listing all 109 women’s college basketball games to air on a national Nielsen-rated network, though, although the one CBS game didn’t have viewers reported so I have to guesstimate it. (That chart is going to be in a very unfinished state.)

The most-watched game not involving Duke, Michigan State or Kentucky was San Diego State-Kansas on CBS January 5 with 2.623 million viewers, also the most watched game not involving a power conference team (assuming you count the American as a power conference – Louisville-Kentucky drew 3.246 million viewers to CBS December 28). Note that that game had an NFL playoff game as a lead-in and spilled into primetime. The next such games were Michigan-Ohio State in a Big Ten semifinal, which drew 2.471 million viewers to CBS March 15, and Syracuse-Virginia, which drew 2.45 million viewers to ESPN March 1. The most watched game on ESPN not to involve Duke, either Michigan team, Kentucky, or Syracuse was Kansas-Texas February 1, which drew 1.924 million viewers. The most-watched non-CBS game I don’t have 18-49 numbers for is Kansas State-Kansas January 11, which drew 1.39 million viewers to ESPN.

The most-watched game to involve solely non-power-conference teams was the Mountain West Championship which drew 1.909 million viewers to CBS March 15. The most-watched game involving a non-power-conference team on ESPN was Boise State-Kentucky on December 10, which drew 1.213 million viewers; the most-watched non-power-conference-only game on ESPN was the WCC Championship March 11, with 1.045 million viewers. The most-watched game between two non-power-conference teams that wasn’t a conference championship was VCU-Saint Louis on ESPN February 15, which drew just 711,000 viewers. (If the American counts as a non-power conference, Connecticut-Louisville drew 1.772 million viewers to CBS on March 8, the American championship between those two schools drew 1.688 million viewers to ESPN March 15, and the game at Connecticut drew 1.522 million viewers to ESPN January 18. If the Big East counts as a non-power conference, Villanova-Syracuse drew 1.448 million viewers to CBS December 28, and Butler-Georgetown drew 1.083 million viewers to CBS February 8.)

The most watched game not on ESPN, CBS, or ABC was Ohio State-Notre Dame on ESPN2 December 21, which drew 1.323 million viewers and only barely made the top 100 overall. The most watched game not on ESPN, CBS, ABC, or ESPN2 was Ohio State-Marquette on Fox November 16 with 799,000 viewers, followed by the Big East Championship on Fox Sports 1 March 15 with 702,000 viewers. ESPNU’s most-watched game was Clemson-Syracuse February 9 with 675,000 viewers, which was edged out by the Pac-12 Championship on Fox Sports 1 March 15 with 680,000 viewers. Its next-most-watched game was Belmont-Kentucky December 21 with 577,000 viewers.

Top Ten Most-Watched Regular Season College Basketball Games of the 2013-14 Season

    Vwr (mil) HH 18-49 Time Net


MCBB: Duke @ Syracuse




2/1 6:30 PM



Big Ten Championship:
Michigan State v. Michigan




3/16 3:30 PM



MCBB: Syracuse @ Duke




2/22 7:00 PM



MCBB: Michigan State v. Kentucky




11/12 7:30 PM



MCBB: North Carolina @ Duke




3/8 9:00 PM



MCBB: Louisville @ Kentucky




12/28 4:23 PM



ACC Championship: Virginia v. Duke




3/16 1:00 PM



Big Ten Semifinal:
Michigan State v. Wisconsin




3/15 4:15 PM



SEC Championship: Florida v. Kentucky




3/16 3:15 PM



MCBB: Kansas v. Duke




11/12 10:19 PM


Read more2013-14 College Basketball Ratings Roundup

The 2013 Mid-Major Conference

Refer to this post if you don’t know what this is about or to catch up on the rules.

This year, five conferences produced multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament: the MWC, A-10, West Coast, MVC, and Sun Belt. These conferences are guaranteed one spot each in the Mid-Major Conference.

Three teams reached the Sweet 16, all from different conferences. Florida Gulf Coast did not come from a multi-bid conference, but the other two did. Although Saint Mary’s won their “First Four” game, Gonzaga was the only team to win a game in a full-size round. Colorado State and San Diego State each won their first game and lost their second, and no team from the Sun Belt won a game in the NCAA tournament. Colorado State and San Diego State split their regular season games and each lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament; Middle Tennessee lost in the conference semifinals and had to play in the “First Four”, but swept Western Kentucky in the regular season.

This leaves three spots in the MMC to be determined by my discretion, with one of them coming from the Mountain West.

Without further ado, the eight members of the 2012 Mid-Major Conference:

La Salle (Atlantic 10)
Wichita State (Missouri Valley Conference)
Gonzaga (West Coast Conference)
Middle Tenn. St. (Sun Belt)
Colorado State (Mountain West Conference)
Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)
Memphis (Conference USA)
Belmont (Ohio Valley Conference)

With Memphis and Belmont being at-large contenders (the decision might have been much harder had Middle Tennessee not made the field as a sort-of questionable at-large), the only real decision I had to make actually involved the first-ever conference-restricted discretionary selection since I started doing this. San Diego State might have been more deserving, but I had to reward Colorado State’s best season in decades, if not ever. Florida Gulf Coast robbed SDSU of their MMC spot on top of getting one of their own; of course, if I had counted the SEC as a mid-major instead of the Mountain West, I wouldn’t have had to make any decision, because Florida would have gotten the automatic spot. Moreover, depending on what the new Big East and “American” conferences look like, this might well be the last year I ever do this, so let’s give a warm round of applause for what may be the last MMC ever.

2 years of the Sports TV wars, and the coming Year of Fox

Year Three of the sports TV wars will be when they start to kick off in earnest with the pending launch of Fox Sports 1, and not only is Fox making a huge push for the launch, they’re not giving up their regional sports network hegemony without a fight. Over the past month and a half, Fox has bought portions of the YES network and SportsTime Ohio, the RSN run by the Cleveland Indians.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about Fox no longer having any presence whatsoever in any market larger than Dallas should Time Warner Cable win the rights to the Dodgers (though TWC SportsNet’s chances are still very much alive at the moment), about the launch of Fox Sports 1 representing the final abandonment of the FSN concept and that Fox would cannibalize FSN’s national programming to fill time on its new national networks. Now Fox has an owned-and-operated presence in the top two media markets, and if they win Dodgers rights they’ll be very hard to kick out of either one.

What might be sustaining FSN’s continued interest in acquiring existing RSNs, including a rumored bid for the MASN network co-owned by the Orioles and Nationals? It may be a clause in Fox’s new baseball contract that only recently came to light: apparently, Fox can fill up its lineup of games on FS1 by cannibalizing them from RSNs it owns – a clause that might be a remnant of the early days of the national FSN experiment when FSN would air a “national” game every Thursday. Owning a piece of YES allows Fox to fill up FS1’s lineup of games with far more Yankees games than, say, Mets games.

This suggests Fox might also be thinking about making a run at NESN and its associated Red Sox rights, and why Dodgers rights will be far more valuable, at least to Fox, than has already been suggested. As much as basketball can move the needle, baseball’s lack of a salary cap and some quirks in its revenue sharing model have made the local sports TV wars especially competitive regarding, and lucrative for, baseball teams, long higher-rated as a whole than basketball games anyway (notwithstanding national interest). If Fox has this added motivation driving them to acquire baseball rights specifically, don’t be surprised to see the values climb into the stratosphere, especially in competitive markets. In particular, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fox absolutely break the bank on the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and Detroit Tigers in their next contracts, even without obvious competition; even the Florida teams could rake in the dough if Fox fears Comcast or Bright House coming calling.

Most speculation on national networks beyond Fox Sports 1 has settled on Fuel becoming Fox Sports 2, with Fox Soccer remaining as is, which has never made much sense to me given Fuel’s smaller reach and Fox Soccer’s loss of its best, most consistent programming. But Fox may have in mind transitioning Fox Soccer out of the sports market entirely. The LA Times reported earlier this week that Fox is considering relaunching Fox Soccer into a general entertainment network, effectively an “FX2”. That seems a substantially riskier move than turning it into Fox Sports 2; if your company runs multiple entertainment networks, it’s usually critical to make sure they have their own identity so as not to cannibalize one another (for example, TBS being all about comedy while TNT stresses its dramas), especially when the channel is starting with relatively little distribution – Fox Soccer is in about 50 million homes, better than a lot of startups but not enough to launch a big-time network and vulnerable to cable company defections, especially when many cable operators currently put it on sports tiers. To explicitly market it as a “lesser” channel to FX smacks of borderline suicide, and something no general entertainment channel I know of does.

If Fox is going to do this, I would suggest either marketing it as a comedy network (FX is primarily known for dramas though it does have more than a few comedies), marketing it towards women, or create a kids network powered by the old Fox Kids block that entertained so many kids during the 90s (though the rights to many of those cartoons may be owned by other entities). Fox could also market to niche genres, like with NBC Universal’s Cloo and Chiller channels, or pick up the geek crowd disenchanted with the state of SyFy and G4. An outside-the-box possibility could be to convert Fox Soccer into an international version of the Fox News Channel; Fox Soccer already occasionally airs the general “Sky News” from Britain. Ultimately, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fox decided that turning Fox Soccer away from sports risked losing too much existing distribution for too little gain to be viable and the only feasible option would be to convert it, not Fuel, into Fox Sports 2, getting that network off the ground that way. (I continue to maintain that Fuel doesn’t feel like a sports channel in the same way as the others to me; it may be about “extreme” sports beyond its UFC coverage, but, well, those are marginally “sports” at best.)

In any case, if Fox only creates two networks that means the chances are borderline at best that it shuts down Fox College Sports entirely, but recent events have still suggested it should rethink what role FSN takes when acquiring college rights – people in the Bay Area have been scrambling to watch Cal and Stanford basketball games FSN holds the rights to since the area’s Comcast SportsNet networks aren’t showing FSN programming.

I haven’t spoken about conference realignment in a while (partly because the whole thing has just gotten too depressing for me), but Fox is also the reported leader in the clubhouse for the rights to the so-called “Catholic 7”, the non-football-playing members of the Big East who finally figured out that the depleted remnants of the football half of the conference weren’t going to command a contract anywhere near as good as what commissioner Mike Aresco was trying to make them believe, especially with the Big East losing its privileged BCS status. (Once Tulane became a viable Big East member, it became clear that this was essentially Conference USA 2.0, with only UConn being a true “Big East” school – and they, not Louisville, probably should have been the school the ACC called when Maryland left for the Big Ten.) Fox has been reported to be offering something in the neighborhood of $300 million, an astonishing number for a non-football conference and hopefully a wake-up call for all the other actors in conference realignment that football itself is not what powers the money machine, but sports people want to watch.

Fox is a rather odd choice to go after the Catholic 7, but unless its existing Big 12 and Pac-12 contracts have limited at best basketball inventory for FS1 their only other option to truly establish their basketball bona fides is the Big Ten contract in a few years, which admittedly I’d be shocked if they don’t snag. But until purchasing YES Fox had very little RSN presence in the Catholic 7 territory; RSNs in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio, but Marquette might be the only school in any of those states. YES puts them in St. John’s backyard, and the Catholic 7 might be going after the likes of Butler, Dayton, Xavier, and Saint Louis (and Virginia Commonwealth, which might bring FS South/SportSouth into play as well), so they have that going for them.

But considering how much the Big East and ESPN have meant to each other, and the fact that the Catholic 7, to me, are the true inheritors of the Big East’s legacy regardless of whether they actually win the name (a basketball conference with the likes of Memphis, Temple, Cincinnati, and UConn may be a very good mid-major, but still a mid-major), I cannot believe that ESPN would let them blithely walk away to Fox so easily. I have to imagine ESPN will make a big run for at least a piece of the Catholic 7, probably sublicensing some games to CBS – the first real competition between ESPN and Fox since the World Cup rights came up. (Pre-split, NBC was considered a favorite to snag Big East rights and a major reason Aresco kept hyping how much money the conference would make from the sports TV wars – but at this point, which half they go after depends on whether NBC wants to keep piling up mid-majors in football or establish their basketball bona fides. Considering the Mountain West was literally the only FBS conference at their disposal last season, I would lean towards the latter at this point; the only major football conference they have a shot at for several years at this point is the Big Ten, and that shot is very remote.)

Last year saw Fox establish the foundation for Fox Sports 1 with its baseball and NASCAR contracts, while NBCSN settled into a third-place groove (and potentially started to establish a niche for themselves) by acquiring the Premier League, driving the final nail into Fox Soccer’s coffin. While this year will see the fight for the Catholic 7 and the awarding of the other half of the NASCAR package, and the NBA rights might come up for negotiation as well, for the most part the stage for the sports TV wars will move away from acquiring rights and towards what the contenders, especially Fox, do with them. FS1 is likely coming in August, and that is when the Wars will start in earnest.

The Sports TV Wars Come Back to Life

There was a dead period of a little over a month in the sports TV wars, but some contracts are starting to get signed again.

CBS Sports Network is starting to become home to all the bottom-of-the-barrel detritus none of the other contenders want – both professional lacrosse leagues, and rumor has it the UFL will be looking to them as their savior. At least they share the PBR with NBC Sports Network. It’s even starting to spread to the college coverage that originally built the network and continues to provide its best programming; the Great Alaska Shootout, floundering since being abandoned by ESPN and putting together a patchwork of regional TV coverage, has gotten back on “national” television with the CBS Sports Network. As the Wars develop, I have a feeling you’ll see people start to say “that league is so far down they’re on the CBS Sports Network!” The challenge posed to CBS is if they can avoid that fate of becoming the network of last resort.

Of more substance, but not much, is the Ivy League expanding its relationship with NBC Sports Network, which already shows several football games, but will now show basketball and lacrosse for the next two years as well, and could sublicence some games to other entities.

Again, not a whole heck of a lot, but the big prizes of MLB and NASCAR are coming up very, very quickly. In fact, the NASCAR contract may be done in less than two weeks.

Sport-Specific Networks
6 9.5 4.5 3.5 0 1.5

The 2012 Mid-Major Conference

Refer to this post if you don’t know what this is about or to catch up on the rules.

This year, six conferences produced multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament: the MWC, A-10, West Coast, C-USA, MAAC, and MVC. These conferences are guaranteed one spot each in the Mid-Major Conference.

Two teams reached the Sweet 16, from different conferences. Ohio did not come from a multi-bid conference, but Xavier did. New Mexico was the only team from the Mountain West to win their first game; ditto for Creighton and the Missouri Valley, and Gonzaga and the WCC, not counting the “First Four”. No team from the MAAC or C-USA won a game in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis and Southern Miss split their regular season games but Memphis won the conference tournament while Southern Miss was upset before reaching the final; Loyola (MD) has a similar advantage over Iona, with the added bonus of not having to play the “First Four”.

This leaves one spot in the MMC to be determined by my discretion, with no conference restrictions.

Without further ado, the eight members of the 2012 Mid-Major Conference:

Xavier (Atlantic 10)
Ohio (Mid-American Conference)
Creighton (Missouri Valley Conference)
New Mexico (Mountain West Conference)
Gonzaga (West Coast Conference)
Memphis (Conference USA)
Loyola (MD) (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference)
Murray State (Ohio Valley Conference)

A record number of mid-major conferences producing multiple bids (matching the first year I did this in 2007) leaves me with only one discretionary pick, and there was no way I was going to leave Murray State’s two-loss season out. As with Memphis last year, Loyola received an MMC pick solely because Iona received an at-large they might not have deserved, and this one is a bit less defensible. The CAA could have used a spot for VCU or Drexel, and Harvard might have gotten a discretionary spot if Murray State weren’t so strong. Combined with the problem the “First Four” poses for determining tourney distance, I may have to change my rules for how I treat the “First Four” (which didn’t exist in its current form when I made them) in future years. I’ll also need to keep an eye on whether conference realignment affects which conferences are considered “major”. Speaking of which, give an honorable mention to Colorado, who would have qualified for the MMC this year if the Pac-12 were considered what they were this year: a mid-major.