Title game averaged 23.87 mil viewers

CBS hooped it up in the ratings with coverage of the NCAA men’s basketball tourney, as Monday’s championship game capped strong year-to-year gains in key demos.

The title game, which saw Duke prevail over Arizona, averaged 23.87 million viewers and a 10.0/25 in adults 18-49 — gains of 16% and 22%, respectively, over last year. That helped the 63-game tournament as a whole post a 2% increase in household ratings (6.5/14 vs. 6.4/14) after years of gradual declines.

Although still the second lowest-rated championship ever, this year’s uptick is an encouraging sign for the sport as well as for CBS, which has televised March Madness for the last 20 years and owns the exclusive rights through 2013.

“We are extremely pleased with the overall increased rating and encouraged for the future that this great event will continue to be successful,” CBS Sports prexy Sean McManus said. “The ratings growth each day is evidence of how interest in the tournament caught the public’s attention.”

According to Nielsen, the title game delivered significant gains in key demos vs. last year’s Michigan State-Florida contest: up 20% in men 18-34 (11.9 vs. 9.9) and 22% in men 18-49 (13.4 vs. 11.0). These demos are the best for any CBS program this season, except for the Super Bowl and the premiere of “Survivor: The Australian Outback.”

For the tournament, this year’s 5.1 rating in men 18-34 is up 13% vs. a year ago and is the best in three years. Overall 18-49 average was 3.8, up 12% from last year’s 3.4.

January’s college football championship game on ABC, contested in the Orange Bowl between Oklahoma and Florida State, averaged 27.24 million viewers and an 11.1/28 in adults 18-49; it, too, was up vs. a year ago. The two sports’ championship games ratings have been relatively close for several years.

Even though ratings for this year’s college basketball tourney and championship game are down from years past, the event remains a winner compared to other primetime programming. Monday’s game, for example, delivered ratings nearly three times better than any program on a competing network and will likely finish the week as the No. 2 program — behind only “Survivor.”

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