Upsets Like Northern Iowa’s Victory Over Kansas Turn Away Viewers

22 03 2010

If you’re like me, your March Madness bracket has been reduced to nothing more than a series of scratched out teams.

Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh led his team to defeat No. 1 Kansas. Though they make great games, these upsets have shunned viewers. (Image via

Big teams who typically dominate the tournament, such as Villanova, Notre Dame, and Georgetown, were booted in startling upsets by schools like St. Mary’s and Cornell.

And every one knows how the number one team in the country, Kansas, was sent packing by number nine seed Northern Iowa.

While the success of these Cinderella-esque teams has led to excitingly close games and compelling character-driven stories, it hasn’t made for good TV, according to Tom Van Riper at Forbes.

In his article “Too Many Cinderellas,” Van Riper argues that the lack of big name schools winning in the tournament has hurt CBS’ ability to attract viewers.  This, in turn, could affect the NCAA’s big plans for next year:

If television ratings suffer during upcoming rounds, it could complicate two options the NCAA is considering for next season: an expansion of the tournament to 96 teams from 64, and whether to exercise its right to opt out of its 11-year, $6 billion television deal with CBS, which has three more years to run.  Experts see the latter decision as more likely to be affected by a dip in ratings.

The NCAA planned to shop around the rights to March Madness because they felt that other networks – such as ESPN, which has expressed interest in obtaining the tournament – would pay more than the expected $1.5 billion.

But with declining viewership, this sale will be a much greater risk.  “CBS scored a 5.3 overnight rating through the first two rounds, according to Nielsen, down slightly from last year,” Van Riper reported.  If top seeded schools like Duke, Kentucky, and Syracuse can’t make it through the next round, these ratings will plummet.

The fact that number nine seed, Norther Iowa, was able to topple the team at the top of the bracket was extremely exciting.  But when the championship game is between two teams such as Xavier and St. Mary’s, the tournament loses its luster and viewership declines.

This would not only hurt the NCAA and CBS, but also the tourney fans who were excited to see a sports-dedicated channel like ESPN cover the number one college event in sports.




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