Today’s NCAA college basketball Final Four in San Antonio has all the elements that make for compelling stories: A charismatic 98-year-old nun who provides pre-game strategy; a Cinderella team coming out of nowhere to successfully take on the big boys of college hoops; and established traditional basketball powers with deep fan bases returning for another crack at a championship.
Loyola-Chicago is the Cinderella team, appearing in the Final Four for the first time since winning the entire tournament in 1963. It was the 11th-seeded team in its bracket, and powered by the inspiration of 98-year-old nun Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, it will attempt to keep its magic March going today when it takes on Big Ten powerhouse Michigan at 6 PM ET/3 PM PT.
In the other semifinal, national power Villanova takes on storied Kansas (9 PM ET/6 PM PT), with the winners of the two games meeting Monday for college basketball’s national championship.
Despite all of those compelling factors, fans aren’t tuning in at the rate they did last year, at least so far. Like the dragging ratings for the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics, NCAA tournament television ratings are down about three percent from last year. Part of that is the games are not on networks. Turner has today’s Final Four and the national championship, while TBS has the conventional national feed, with TNT and truTV carrying versions tailored to the individual teams.
When Turner carried the match-ups two years ago, it produced the lowest ratings ever, even with the games carried on network television.
CBS Sports head Sean McManus spoke about the low ratings to Chris Russo on Sirius XM radio. Even with Cinderella Loyola in the mix, “the problem is it probably won’t bring a lot of new people to the sets who haven’t been following the tournament all along,” McManus said. “It’s a good story, they won three games by (a total of) four points. They’ve been a really exciting team to watch. You do get the Chicago market (No. 3 in the nation), which helps a little bit. But I’d be lying if I said that they’re going to be as big a draw as … a Kentucky or Virginia would have been.
“It’s a great story, I think Sister Jean is terrific. But to have an upstart like that go this far is not a disaster obviously, but not the best of all scenarios for us.”