UCLA’s overtime victory over Michigan State in a battle of marquee programs averaged 3 million viewers Thursday night on TBS, the best viewership for an NCAA Tournament First Four play-in game since the format was introduced in 2011, according to Nielsen.
Overall, the First Four games to kick off the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament were watched by 7.6 million viewers across TBS, truTV, NCAA March Madness Live and TV Everywhere platforms. Viewership for TBS and truTV’s live coverage is up 36% compared with 2019’s comparable telecasts in early numbers as the tourney returned from a year’s hiatus owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The four games (Texas Southern vs Mount St Mary’s and Norfolk State vs. Appalachian State on truTV and Drake vs. Wichita State and UCLA-Michigan State on TBS) drew an average of 7.3 million viewers, per Nielsen fast nationals, up 24% compared with the previous record audience in 2014 and up as well in the key demos.
UCLA, down for the majority of the game, rallied to force overtime and eventually win the game pitting programs more accustomed to Final Four appearances than First Four ones. The telecast peaked with an average of 3.3 million viewers from 11-11:15 p.m. ET.
With the 86-80 win, the Bruins advance to a first-round game Saturday night as a No. 11 seed against No. 6 BYU.
The NCAA Tournament’s first round is underway today via Turner Networks and CBS. This year’s Final Four is April 3 and the title game is April 5, both on CBS.