Ratings Roundup: NCAA Tourney Off to Best Start Ever; ESPN’s Championship Week Comes Up Big

CBS Sports and Turner Sports’ exclusive coverage of the NCAA Tournament across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV is averaging a 6.7/14 overnight rating/share to register as the highest-ever rating for the event through the first Sunday (since the tournament expanded to its current television format in 1991). This year’s NCAA Tournament to date overnight rating (6.7/14) is up 6% compared to a 6.3/14 in 2014.

This weekend’s exclusive third round coverage delivered a 7.3/16 overnight rating/share, the highest rating for the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament in 22 years and a 7% increase over last year.

On Saturday, tourney coverage also generated the all-time highest rating for the first Saturday of the NCAA Tournament (since the tournament expanded).  Saturday’s games averaged a 7.4/17 overnight rating/share, up 14% compared to a 6.5/14 in 2014. The second daytime telecast window (2:45-5:15 p.m.) averaged a 6.7/16 to garner the highest rating for the game window since 2007 and up 29% compared with a 5.2/12 in 2014. The first primetime telecast window (5:15-9:45 p.m.) averaged a 10.3/23 to register the highest rating for the game window of all time (in the current television format) and up 20% over an 8.6/19 in 2014. The second primetime window (7:45 p.m.-12:30 a.m.) averaged an 8.9/17 to tie 1993 as the highest rating for the game window of all time (in the current television format) and up 9% increase over the same telecast window last year (8.2/15).

On Thursday, CBS and Turner delivered the all-time highest rating for the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament (since the tournament expanded). Thursday’s games averaged a 6.6/14 overnight ratings/share, up 10% compared with a 6.0/14 in 2014, according to Nielsen metered market ratings. The first daytime telecast window (12-4:30 p.m. ET) averaged a 4.6/15 to tie last year as the highest rating for the game window in 25 years. The second daytime telecast window (2:45-7:30 p.m.) averaged a 6.7/16 to garner the highest rating in for the game window since 1991 and up 24% compared with a 5.5/14 in 2014. The first primetime telecast window (6:45-10:30 p.m.) averaged a 7.8/13 to register the highest rating for the game window in 25 years and surpassing a 7.7/15 in 2014. The second primetime window (9:15 p.m.-1:15 a.m.) averaged a 7.1/13 to deliver the highest rating for the game window in 25 years and a 15% increase over the same telecast window last year (6.2/12).

…On the digital side, NCAA March Madness Live has generated a record-setting 54 million live video streams through Sunday, a 7% increase over last year.  Additionally, NCAA March Madness Live has netted more than 11 million live hours of video consumption through the first week of the tournament, up 8% through the same period a year ago.   The NCAA Tournament has also grossed a record 108 million total social impressions across Facebook and Twitter through Sunday for a 40% increase over 2014….

…Prior to the start of the Big Dance, ESPN saw record viewership for its Championship Week coverage. Seventy games across ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU averaged 710,000 viewers, up 24% over 2014 (574,000) and reached a total of 46.38 million people. It was also the most viewed Championship week on WatchESPN, which streamed 134 games and delivered 135 Million minutes viewed (up 80%). The ACC title game on ESPN between North Carolina and Notre Dame averaged 3.53 million viewers to make it the most-viewed Championship Week game on ESPN since 2009 and ESPN’s third most-viewerd Championship Week game on record. The SEC title game on ESPN between Arkansas and Kentucky averaged 3.31 million viewers to become ESPN’s fifth most-viewed Championship Week on game on record and the most viewed SEC title game since 2010…

Meanwhile, CBS’s coverage of the Wisconsin/Michigan State Big Ten Tournament championship game on March 15, drew a 2.6 final rating and 4.0 million, down a tick in ratings and 12% in viewership from Michigan State/Michigan last year (2.7, 4.5M), but the third-largest audience of the season on any network. The only games to earn a larger audience were North Carolina/Duke on ESPN in February (4.1M) and the teams’ rematch on the same network in March (4.2M). (SportsMediaWatch)…

…The Villanova/Xavier Big East Tournament championship drew just 414,000 viewers on Fox Sports 1, down 41% from Providence/Creighton last year (704K), down 88% from Louisville/Syracuse on ESPN in 2013 (3.4M), and almost certainly a record-low. Last year’s game was the most-watched college basketball telecast ever on FS1. The Wildcats’ win was dominated head-to-head by the ACC title game on ESPN, which earned 3.5 million viewers. It also attracted less than half the audience of the American Athletic Conference championship the following day, also on ESPN (1.6M). (SportsMediaWatch)…

…Championship Week followed up on ESPN’s second most-viewed season on record (out of 36 seasons), averaging 1,376,000 viewers and trailing last year’s record viewership by only 78,000 viewers.

ESPN and ESPN2 combined to televise the five most-viewed games this season on any network and were the only networks with telecasts that averaged more than three million viewers. ESPN’s two Duke vs. North Carolina contests took the top two spots with the March 7 game averaging 4,241,000 viewers and the February 18 telecast averaging 4,136,000 viewers. In addition to being the season’s third most-viewed game, ESPN2’s 3,495,000 viewers for Kentucky at Louisville on December 27 is also the network’s most-viewed men’s college hoops game ever. The remaining top five were on ESPN: Duke at Virginia on January 31 averaged 3,489,000 viewers and Kentucky at Florida on February 7 averaged 3,267,000 viewers.

ESPN also set an industry-record for exclusive games, carrying 1,714 men’s contests across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPNEWS, SEC Network, SEC Network+ and Longhorn Network. The schedule of 669 exclusive games on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNEWS – at least one telecast on all but nine days from November 14 to March 8 – averaged 448,000 viewers. Overall, the four networks combined to reach 114,932,000 viewers. The 1,714 games on WatchESPN – every exclusive contest on an ESPN television and digital platform – generated 607,000,000 minutes viewed, up 56 percent over 2013-14. Overall, 2014-15 produced WatchESPN’s four most-viewed regular-season men’s college basketball games ever: North Carolina at Duke on February 18 (219,000 unique viewers), Kentucky at Georgia on March 3 (168,000), Kentucky at Louisville on December 27 (158,000) and Duke at North Carolina on March 7 (150,000).

ESPN telecasts in Louisville averaged a metered market-leading 5.9 rating, its 13th straight year at the top and the largest regular-season average for the sport on ESPN in any market on record. Greensboro, with a 3.0 average rating, ended the season with the second highest rating for the fourth consecutive year. Raleigh-Durham (2.7) and Kansas City (2.4) – which were tied for second last season — were the third and fourth top markets, respectively this year. The remaining top 10: Columbus (2.1), Cincinnati (1.9), Dayton (1.9), Indianapolis (1.8), Charlotte (1.8) and Memphis (1.8)…

…On the Women’s side, viewership of ESPN’s women’s basketball regular season coverage averaged 405,000 viewers – up 36% over 2014 (297,000), while the 0.3 household rating was up 50% over 2014 (0.2). The Feb. 9 Big Monday game showcasing then No. 1 vs. No. 2 UConn posted a 0..7 household rating, the best regular-season women’s game on any network in the last three years (12/2011, UConn vs. Baylor, 0.8). It was also the highest ESPN2 Big Monday content in the last six years (2/2009), Tennessee vs. Oklahoma, 0.8). Top metered markets for the season were Hartford & New Have (1.7), Knoxville (1.1), and Louisville (0.4). The South Carolina-UConn game saw the Harford market deliver its highest overnight rating (12.5) for any regular season women’s game on ESPN 2 since March 4, 2013 (UConn-Notre Dame, 13.5)…

…Sunday’s NBCSN telecast of Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool averaged 950,000 viewers to rank as the most-watched early morning Premier League match in U.S. television history. Viewership peaked in the 10:45 a.m. ET quarter-hour with 1.2 million viewers. Juan Mata scored both goals for the Red Devils, securing Manchester United’s fourth straight league win and moving the team five points clear of Liverpool to maintain the fourth and final Champions League position. NBC UNIVERSO averaged 146,000 viewers for Liverpool-Manchester United, bringing combined English- and Spanish-language viewership for the match to nearly 1.2 million viewers. To date, NBC Sports Group’s Premier League viewership (average of 485,000 viewers) is up 10% compared to this point last season, and up 19% among Adults 18-49. NBCSN has televised four of the five most-watched Premier League matches in U.S. cable history…

…ESPN Deportes’ telecast of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 delivered record-breaking ratings for the network across platforms. Barcelona’s win over Manchester City in the second leg of Round of 16, last March 18, is the highest-rated, most-watched telecast on ESPN Deportes this year with a 2.0 Hispanic HH rating and 451,000 Hispanic P2+ viewers. The match is also the most-watched UEFA Champions League telecast in Spanish-language cable thus far this season (it tied as the highest-rated match with the 2/24/15 Manchester City/Barcelona game). ESPN Deportes’ coverage of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 reached a total of 2.1 million Hispanics. The eight matches telecasted during this round averaged a 0.9 Hispanic Household rating and 176,000 Hispanic P2+ viewers. The second leg alone delivered a 1.1 Hispanic Household rating and 233,000 Hispanic P2+ viewers…

…NBCSN’s Blackhawks-Rangers Wednesday Night Rivalry matchup last week (March 18) delivered 787,000 viewers, making it the second most-watched game of the season behind opening night (PHI-BOS, 956,000 viewers. Viewership peaked in the final full quarter hour with nearly one million viewers (10:15-10:30 p.m. ET, 984,000). Locally, the game delivered a 2.39 rating in the New York market, making the highest-rated NHL regular-season game ever on NBCSN in the market (excluding NYR-NYI Stadium Series matchup). Chicago was the top market for the game (5.29), up 12% from the 2013-14 Blackhawks regular-season average on NBCSN. In Los Angeles, the Kings-Ducks Wednesday Nightcap contest delivered a 1.12 rating, making it the third highest-rated NHL regular-season game in the market (excluding LA-ANA Stadium Series matchup)…

…The debut of the “Premier Boxing Champions” series on Spike TV on Friday, March 13 averaged 869,000 viewers, making it the most-watched Friday night boxing event since the Jan. 12, 2007, edition of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights,” which averaged 906,000 viewers/ According to Spike TV, Friday’s broadcast more than doubled ESPN2’s average for boxing on Fridays in 2014 (403,000 viewers). Spike TV also shows Bellator MMA and Glory kickboxing on Friday nights. The boxing event did better than both. Bellator averaged about 800,000 viewers last year (about 845,000 with DVRs included) and Glory hovers around 500,000 viewers. (ESPN)…

…The final-round rating for the PGA TOUR’s Valspar Championship on NBC (March 15 in Tampa Bay), was the best ever for the event (2003-2015) and weekend coverage on both Golf Channel and NBC included ratings increases of more than 30%, according to overnights A three-man playoff between America’s young guns Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, along with a re-emerging Sean O’Hair, in Sunday’s final round on NBC posted a 2.41 overnight rating – up 31 percent from last year’s broadcast (1.84). Ratings peaked at 3.6 between 6-7 p.m., which was opposite selection shows on various networks for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. This followed an 11% year-over-year increase for Saturday’s third round coverage (1.47), which was the best since 2008. Golf Channel’s live, lead-in coverage on the weekend also saw ratings increases, with Saturday’s third round (0.45) up 32 percent over the same round in 2014 (0.34), and the final round up seven percent (0.64 vs. 0.60). These are the best lead-in overnight ratings for this event since Golf Channel began lead-in coverage in 2011…

…FOX Sports reports that its UEFA Champions League coverage of last Tuesday’s Arsenal victory drew 472,000 viewers to FOX Sports 1. The A18-49 demo grew 125% over the match on the corresponding day last year to net 304,000 viewers. Right after the game, America’s Pregame posted 239,000 viewers to become the most-watched edition of APG in its history. (Cynopsis Sports)…

…Last Sunday’s Tottenham/Manchester United English Premier League match drew a 0.4 final rating and 752,000 viewers on NBCSN, the network’s most-watched EPL telecast in more than two months — since Manchester United/Southampton on January 11 (801K). The match was the top soccer telecast of the week on any network, the first time the EPL has taken top honors since the week ending February 1. (SportsMediaWatch)…