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March Madness Opener Draws Best TV Numbers In 8 Years

  • Thursday's men’s basketball tournament coverage averaged 8.4 million viewers.
  • With more fans working from home, the early game window draws record audiences.
Mar 16, 2023; Orlando, FL, USA; Furman Paladins guard Marcus Foster (5) celebrates after defeating the Virginia Cavaliers at Amway Center.
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

TV coverage of the NCAA “March Madness” men’s basketball tournament is off to a promising start.

Thursday’s opening day across CBS Sports, TBS, TNT, and truTV averaged 8.4 million viewers. That was up 2% from last season. It marked the biggest opening day in eight years. 

That number beats the 7.5 million average viewers for Fox Sports coverage of the 2022 MLB All-Star Game. And the 6.3 million for the NFL’s revamped “Pro Bowl Games” in February. 

With more fans working from home than ever, the opening day also delivered its most-watched early afternoon TV window in history. The early game window averaged 6.8 million viewers, up 15% from 2022.

As usual with March Madness, there was a bracket-busting upset on opening day. Namely Furman’s stunning 68-67 upset of favored Virginia.

The numbers for the opening day followed solid TV performance for Sunday’s night live men’s and women’s Selection Shows on CBS and ESPN. Both shows grabbed higher audiences than last year. 

CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports’ joint presentation of the Men’s Selection Show averaged 5.1 million viewers. That was up 3% from last year’s program. It was the most-watched sports program for the week across any network.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Women’s Selection Show presentation averaged 1.27 million viewers. That marked an 18% jump from last year. It validated ESPN’s decision to shift the show from Monday night to Sunday night.