CBS saw 14% decline in viewers for NCAA men's basketball championship game, while ratings for women's title match on ESPN grew

Key Points
  • The 2021 NCAA men's basketball championship averaged 16.9 million viewers, the least viewed title game for CBS since it started broadcasting them in 1982, although it beat ratings for the 2018 title game broadcast on Turner.
  • ESPN said the women's championship game on Sunday averaged 4 million viewers and is the most-watched women's title game since 2014.

In this article

MaCio Teague #31 of the Baylor Bears goes up for a basket against Drew Timme #2 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 05, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Andy Lyons | Getty Images

Gonzaga's chance at history was crushed in the final game of the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball tournament, as the Bulldogs lost their first game of the season to the Baylor Bears, and viewership suffered.

The 2021 NCAA men's basketball championship game attracted an average of 16.9 million viewers to CBS Sports on Monday, a 14% decline from the 2019 game. The 2020 contest was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Baylor prevented Gonzaga from going undefeated, beating the Bulldogs, 86-70. A win would have capped a perfect season for Gonzaga and would be the first time a men's program went undefeated since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.

This year's game was the least-watched championship aired on CBS since the network started broadcasting the games in 1982. It's also the lowest since WarnerMedia property Turner Sports aired the game in 2018, after CBS and Turner began switching every other year in 2016. That game, between Villanova and the University of Michigan, drew roughly 16.5 million viewers.

CBS had about 19 million viewers for the championship game between Virginia and Texas Tech in 2019. That was a decline from the 2017 game it hosted featuring the University of North Carolina and Gonzaga, which attracted approximately 22 million viewers.

For the 2021 men's Final Four games, an average of 14.9 million viewers watched Saturday's Gonzaga-UCLA overtime buzzer-beater, and that game peaked at 18.8 million viewers. Baylor's win over Houston had 8.1 million viewers, which is down 37% compared with the 2019 early semifinal contest.

Last month, John Bogusz, CBS Network executive vice president of sports sales and marketing, acknowledged NCAA's viewership decline during the pandemic. He mentioned the network had set aside extra ad inventory for marketers should the network fail to meet viewership targets.

"We'll wait and see how the games perform, but we have set aside a little bit of inventory to take care of our advertisers if need be," Bogusz said.

Lexie Hull #12 of the Stanford Cardinal blocks the shot of Aari McDonald #2 of the Arizona Wildcats in the championship game of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament at Alamodome on April 4, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas.
Ben Solomon | NCAA Photos | Getty Images

Viewership up for women's game

Disney-owned ESPN hosted the women's tournament, held in San Antonio. On Tuesday, it said the title game between Arizona and Stanford attracted an average of 4 million viewers on Sunday, peaking at 5.9 million. The network said it was the most-watched women's contest since 2014.

Stanford beat the Wildcats, 54-53, to win its first NCAA women's basketball title since 1992.

The network also reported solid numbers around the semifinal games. Stanford's victory over South Carolina drew an average of 1.6 million viewers, while the University of Connecticut loss to Arizona had 2.6 million viewers, up 24% from the 2019 second semifinal contest.

Disney placed six games from the women's tournament on its ABC network, marking the first time a broadcast network carried games from the women's tournament since 1995, when CBS aired some contests.

The Iowa versus Connecticut contest on March 27 was the highest-rated of the games, with 1.5 million viewers, followed by the Michigan-Baylor game, at 1.2 million. The network said the Sweet 16 contests aired on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 918,000 viewers, which is up 67% from 2019.