March Madness: Alabama-North Carolina averages 7.8 million viewers, tops Thursday Sweet 16 slate

On3 imageby:Nick Schultz03/29/24

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Thursday night, the first No. 1 seed fell in the NCAA Tournament as No. 4 seed Alabama held on to defeat North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. Heading in, it looked like an exciting matchup between two high-powered offenses – and it lived up to the billing.

It was also the most-watched game of Thursday’s March Madness slate.

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Alabama vs. North Carolina averaged 7.8 million viewers on CBS, according to Sports Media Watch. That led the four-game slate, closely followed by Clemson’s upset victory over No. 2 seed Arizona, which averaged 6.53 million viewers as the Tigers reached their first Elite Eight since 1980. It was a big night for CBS after plenty of ratings success through the first two rounds.

For TBS and TruTV, though, it was a different story.

Illinois vs. Iowa State was the most-watched game on those networks. That matchup brought in 3.3 million viewers on average across both networks, which was down 17% from that slot last year, per Sports Media Watch. Fans had to stay up into the wee hours of the night as a result of the 10:14 p.m. ET tip-off, and it didn’t end until after 12:30 a.m. ET.

For Fighting Illini fans who made it through, they saw their team make its first Elite Eight since 2005’s national championship appearance.

That followed UConn’s blowout victory over San Diego State, which kicked off TBS and TruTV’s simulcast with 2.83 million viewers. That’s a 52% decrease from last year’s game between Kansas State and Michigan State in the same window and only aired on TBS. The Huskies left no room for doubt in the second half en route to the 82-52 victory.

It was a mixed bag for CBS Sports and TNT Sports after a hot start to this year’s NCAA Tournament. Through the first weekend, a record number of people tuned in for what turned out to be a rather chalky Round of 64 and Round of 32. More than 8 million people tuned in for the first two days of March Madness, setting a new record for the traditional format that began in 2011.

Four more Sweet Sixteen games await on Friday, again split between CBS and TBS/TruTV. The night kicks off with No. 2 Marquette facing No. 11 NC Statefueled by key transfer portal additions – on CBS at 7:09 p.m. ET. A half hour later, No. 1 seed Purdue and No. 5 seed Gonzaga get rolling on TBS and TruTV.

The late slate features some intriguing matchups, as well. No. 1 seed Houston and No. 4 seed Duke are in that window on CBS. No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 3 seed Creighton will also on TBS and TruTV after Purdue-Gonzaga.