With the NBA continuing to put a poor product on display, NCAA Tournament ratings have skyrocketed. Sure, there were some must see weekend upsets that destroyed brackets. However, a lack of parity and star players now sitting out nationally televised games has people tuning out the NBA.
NBA Ratings Crash Opening Door for March Madness
Bad Look for the NBA
The latest blow for the NBA came this past Saturday. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love all sat out a primetime game against the L.A. Clippers, leading to a 108-78 blowout win for the Clippers. The game scored a 1.0, tying the mark as the second-lowest rated NBA game ever on Broadcast T.V.
This came a week after the Golden State Warriors sat their big guns against the San Antonio Spurs. With Kevin Durant already out due to injury, Warriors coach Steve Kerr decided to sit Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. With Spurs stars Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge out due to injury, the game was a battle of second units. It was another embarrassment for the NBA.
For the first time in NBA history, three games in a single season have scored a 1.1 or lower on a broadcast network. NBA Saturday Primetime is averaging 3.1 million viewers, a 22 percent decrease from last year.
Players sitting out games isn’t the only issue. There’s also a serious lack of parity. There are three teams – the Warriors, the Cavaliers, and the Spurs – who have a legitimate chance to win the title this year. Teams like the Celtics, Wizards, Clippers, and Rockets are good, but they don’t have the firepower to overcome the top three.
March Madness Stealing the Spotlight
The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament averaged 9.3 million viewers per game on the major networks. That made it the most-watched opening weekend in 24 years.
Upsets certainly played a large role in achieving such high ratings. On Saturday, the tournament’s number one overall seed, Villanova, was ousted by Wisconsin. On Sunday, the number two seed in the Midwest region, Louisville, ran into a hot Michigan team and was sent packing. The upsets weren’t finished there, though. On Sunday, Duke gave up 65 second-half points to South Carolina, and to the joy of many, the Blue Devils were knocked out of the tournament. 11.9 million people watched those games on Sunday, which was a 34 percent increase in viewers from last year.
College basketball has everything that the NBA lacks in parity. Six different teams were, at some point, ranked number one in the AP Poll this season. 42 different teams were ranked in the top 25 at some point. While three number one seeds still remain, there are four teams seeded seventh or lower remaining in the tournament.
While there’s no research to back it up, it’s hard to believe that the NBA’s sub-par product hasn’t helped vault the NCAA Tournament ratings. It can’t be a complete coincidence that March Madness ratings are better than they’ve been in more than two decades, while the NBA is going through a rough stretch. With NBA stars making it clear that they have no problem watching from the sidelines, and a clear three-team race for a title, don’t be surprised if this year’s Final Four is one of the most watched of all time.