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Sunday, April 4, 2010
Final Four draws highest ratings since '05

By Eamonn Brennan

Think about all the distractions and drags on your entertainment time that have been invented or proliferated since 2005. The iPhone. The rise of satellite and digital TV. Netbooks. XBox 360. Nintendo Wii. Playstation 3. Blu-Ray. 3-D. The Internet's continual expansion into an all-encompassing social media cloud: Twitter, Facebook and the rest. We don't have any more hours in the day than we did in 2005; what we do have is infinite ways to spend those hours.

Which is part of the reason television ratings in general, and major sports event ratings, are trending downward. This is how it works: When you have 1,000 channels to choose from, fewer people are going to watch the major events cable networks have been thriving on for years. They have other choices. But the NCAA should be happy with the latest piece of news about the 2010 Final Four: For once, ratings didn't trend downward. Instead, the Final Four drew its highest rating since 2005, a 9.7 overnight rating and 19 share, up eight percent over last year's 9.0 rating and 18 share.

If this were, say, 1993, this piece of information wouldn't be all that remarkable. In 2010, though, it bucks the accepted wisdom that NCAA tournament ratings -- or NBA ratings, BCS ratings or whatever -- are forever destined to decrease. These ratings are still not great, sure. But they are positive.

The irony here is that the NCAA tournament has notched its highest rating since 2005 in a year when the organization is strongly leaning toward expanding the NCAA tournament. Expansion would draw more money, which would alleviate the potential lack of ad revenue that lower and lower future ratings would conceivably draw. If the business value of the 65-team tournament is dropping, then leverage your assets and give a TV network more games, right?

This is a memo to the NCAA, though, that tourney ratings aren't necessarily destined to drop forever. People still want to watch high-quality college basketball. Emphasis on high quality.