The 2014 NCAA tournament Final Four is moving to cable and everyone will be watching to see how it affects ratings. CBS has hosted the premiere event for March Madness every season since 1982. But in 2010, CBS and Turner Sports signed a deal with the NCAA that would change how audiences enjoyed college basketball’s biggest stage.
The 2010 deal originally stated that the NCAA tournament Final Four would begin alternating between the two companies beginning in 2016. However, the success of showing every game of the 2013 NCAA tournament through CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV, encouraged Turner Sports to bump up the schedule to 2014. CBS will still host the 2014 and 2015 National Championship Games, while TBS will get all the semifinal coverage. In 2016, TBS will get the whole Final Four and 2017 will belong to CBS.
The move to cable for the 2014 NCAA tournament Final Four is a big deal because of how historical a moment it will be. March Madness has become one of the biggest events in modern American sports, with over 23 million viewers last year. Moving the Final Four is a big deal because of the familiarity that audiences have grown accustomed to. However, the NCAA is not concerned that they will lose viewership. In fact, they believe it is the financially profitable thing to do.
One industry expert told Forbes magazine last year, “It’s noteworthy, but not surprising considering trends in sports broadcasting such Monday Night Football to ESPN and the baseball playoffs to TBS. Most people have access to cable networks, particularly those who want to watch sports. The over-the-air vs. cable conversation is perhaps yesterday’s news. If anything, the big question now is what content should be made available digitally?”
Actually, the fastest growing way to watch the 2014 NCAA tournament will be through the March Madness Live app. Last year, the app saw 36.6 million viewers, in just the few early rounds. Viewers can preview live streaming content for free for few hours, but eventually they must buy the premium app to continue watching. Another revenue stream.
The 2010 deal for the NCAA Tournament rights was worth a reported $770 million. There is no doubt about it, March Madness is about making money. It is estimated that cable networks have about a 90 percent saturation in the market and most sports viewers are included in that total. Neither CBS or Turner Sports is worried about losing viewers.
The announcing crews for the 2014 NCAA tournament Final Four were announced this week as well. Greg Anthony will join Steve Kerr, Jim Nantz and Tracy Wolfson for a mix of CBS and Turner Sports crew. The NBA TNT team of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley will work alongside of Clark Kellogg for pre and post game shows. Unfortunately, the Turner Sports crew have very little exposure to college basketball fans throughout the season and it can make for awkward reporting at times.
Most likely, the 2014 NCAA tournament Final Four will not see a drop in ratings. If anything, more people will continue to have access to more games as the different outlets begin to expand their reach.