Championship game gets 14.1 rating, 23 share, down 18%

The NCAA men’s basketball championship game has continued its recent downward ratings trend, with Monday’s Florida-Michigan State contest dribbling to the game’s lowest-marks ever in primetime.

According to Nielsen, CBS’ coverage of Monday’s championship game averaged a 14.1 rating, 23 share, down 18% from last year’s 17.2/27, which had been the lowest ever. In adults 18-49, this year’s contest slipped to an 8.2/21, off 25% from last year’s 11.0/27.

The contest, which Michigan State controlled from the start and won 89-76, peaked in the 10:30 half-hour (15.6/25).

CBS had been getting good ratings earlier in the tournament, as a batch of buzzer-beaters and upsets produced Nielsens that were the best for the opening two rounds since 1992. But the ouster of several marquee teams over the tourney’s second weekend — including Duke, UCLA and Syracuse — sent ratings downward.

Still, Saturday’s semifinals (Michigan State-Wisconsin and Florida-North Carolina) were down a mere 4% and 6%, respectively, from a year ago. The steeper ratings decline for the title game, then, is a bit puzzling, especially since the contest featured two up-tempo teams from different regions of the country.

For the tournament, CBS averaged a 6.5/14, down 4% from last year’s 6.8/15.

One variable in the mix, with which the title game has had to contend for the last few years, is the strong, loyal Monday night audience for wrestling on cable’s USA and TNT. Wrestling, which has a headlock on the male 12-24 audience, has taken a bite out of ABC’s “Monday Night Football” audience over the last few years, but college basketball skews younger than football and figures to be affected even more severely.

Household ratings for the title game have now declined in seven of the past eight years after peaking with the 1992 contest between Duke and Michigan (22.7/35).

This year’s result comes three months after college football’s championship game inched up 2% over 1999 levels to a 17.5/28 in homes and an 11.0/28 in adults 18-49 — better by 19% and 25%, respectively, over this year’s hoops title game. A year ago, the football and basketball championships each drew a 17.2 homes rating, with the basketball game (11.0) holding a 3% edge over the football game (10.7).

CBS still easily won the night in homes — by 6 shares over ABC and NBC in homes — and in adults 18-49 — by 5 shares over Fox.

In its third outing, Fox’s “Titus” (9.22 million viewers, 4.8/13 in adults 18-49) slipped to fourth in total viewers but still won comfortably among adults 18-34 and edged past a special “Everybody Loves Raymond” repeat by 1 share for the lead in adults 18-49. “Titus” improved on its “That ’70s Show” lead-in by 5% in total viewers and by 4% in adults 18-49.

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