The FBI is investigating the seamy underbelly of college basketball, and despite concerns the federal probe would hurt March Madness viewership, the 2018 NCAA Tournament is drawing big numbers for CBS Sports and Turner Sports.
March Madness 2018 Live
Through the end of the first round, March Madness coverage across CBS, TBS, TNT, truTV and March Madness Live has averaged 8.2 million viewers, up 4 percent over the 7.9 million average during the same period last year.
MARCH MADNESS 2018: NCAA Tournament scores, schedule
March Madness Live drew 9.4 million hours of live consumption, up 6 percent from the same period in 2017. Rhode Island’s 83-78 first-round, overtime win over Oklahoma set a record for most concurrent streams for an overall game window.
Meanwhile, official March Madness accounts across Twitter and Facebook have generated more than 77 million impressions. That’s up 16 percent compared to last year. Video views across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are up 68 percent vs. last year.
Before the tournament began, CBS Sports boss Sean McManus predicted the federal probe would not hurt ratings.
The same goes for Ernie Johnson, host of TNT’s top-rated “Inside the NBA,” who said last week that viewers see the annual celebration of college basketball as a welcome escape.
“People want to watch games,” he said. “They want to be taken away from the pressing things, whether that’s news or the FBI Investigation. I think fans just want to lose themselves in games and watch those. Sometimes they get tired of the crossover on sports shows, talking about politics, or talking about social issues.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I wish you guys would just stick to the games.’ So I think it’s probably a cause for some concern. But I think, probably, fans would rather not know if there are issues going on. No, I don’t think they’re going to say, ‘Oh, no, I heard the FBI is investigating, I’m not going to watch the tournament!’ Baloney. They’re going to watch the tournament.”
Ranking Sweet 16 players by their performances thus far
Dana Jacobson, the ex-ESPNer-turned-CBS-News-correspondent, agreed.
“As a fan, I don’t think [the FBI investigation] affects viewership. I think fans want to watch college basketball. It’s that escape: this is the time of year when everybody loves college basketball, whether it’s for a bracket or a good game,” she said.