The network is seeing strong ratings from this year's Big Dance, which may help it retain its tournament broadcast rights
There have been many surprise winners and losers in this year's NCAA Tournament, but one of the biggest winners has been off the court. CBS Sports is averaging a 5.9 overnight Nielsen rating through the first eight days of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, up 1.9% over the same period last year and up 7.3% from a 5.5 overnight rating in 2008. As USA Today's Michael McCarthy Tweets, "CBS on a roll. First, they get Tiger making his return at The Masters. Now Duke in 1st Final Four since 04. Not bad." This year's Final Four is lacking the glamor of a superstar bound for a top-five NBA draft pick on a high-speed train, and the bandwagon growing daily under Indy hometown hero Butler Bulldogs is the biggest story line of the tournament finale. But execs at the Tiffany Network must be relieved that No. 1 seed Duke has made it through. Despite being a team that, as Newsday puts it, "some love to love and many love to hate"—like the New York Yankees or Notre Dame—CBS (CBS) and its advertisers are no doubt relieved that the Blue Devils are sticking around. Many media analysts have pointed out that NCAA tourney ratings will be a factor this summer when the association debates whether to opt out of the remainder of its $6 billion contract with CBS and put the broadcast rights up for auction. The NCAA Tournament also continues to generate extraordinary streams of revenue, as the NCAA recently signed Kraft (KFT) and Capital One (COF) to multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals, and CBS' March Madness on Demand platform is pacing well ahead of last year's viewership and usage totals. This year's Final Four grand stage is Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where attendance is expected to surpass 70,000, as it did last year at Ford Field in Detroit. In 2006, the last time that Indy held the Final Four, the local economic impact was close to $40 million. With the much bigger new Lucas Oil Stadium, a new airport, and a handful of new hotels, that number is expected to grow considerably this year, when the city hosts its sixth NCAA men's championship event. As for the other winner of this year's Final Four, the one on the court, it will go home with more than a trophy and bragging rights. School officials at Duke, Butler, Michigan State, or West Virginia should get organized. According to the Southern Economic Journal, schools with a men's basketball team that won the NCAA Tournament the previous year see a 7.5% increase, on average, in student applications. 2. For the Ladies, an Alamo City Showdown Awaits Not to be forgotten, the NCAA Women's Final Four kicks off in San Antonio on Sunday, Apr. 4. Of the 10 schools listed in a Harris Poll of favorite women's college basketball teams, only one, the University of Connecticut, is still alive in the tournament, meaning women's Final Four TV ratings aren't looking so good. One winner regardless of the games' outcome is Nike, which represented 52 teams in the tournament, including 12 of the final 16 schools. Once the women reach San Antonio, Final Four organizers there expect an influx of 20,000-25,000 fans and an economic impact of $15 million to $20 million. The Alamo City last hosted a Women's Final Four in 2002, when UConn took the title— and it's certainly looking like lightning may strike there again for the Lady Huskies, who are fast closing in on Coach John Wooden's and his UCLA Bruins' supposedly untouchable streak of 88 consecutive wins. Local organizers are making sure that fans have plenty to do in their city, even if they don't have tickets to the games. What's more, many of the planned events are free. The Dome Dribble Fueled by PowerAde invites kids 18 years and younger to dribble their way around the Alamodome and into Tourney Town—the tournament's fan fest—in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Participants will receive a free basketball and free T-shirt. The free-of-charge Tourney Town will host autograph sessions, basketball clinics, interactive displays, concerts, and more throughout the weekend. Saturday, Apr. 3, will kick off with the 4Kay Run, held in honor of the late North Carolina State University head women's basketball coach, Kay Yow. Proceeds benefit cancer research through the Kay Yow/WMCA Cancer Fund. Later, a Battle of the Bands will pit the pep bands from the Final Four teams in a free, fan-judged contest at the Alamodome, followed by the free (and open to the public) Women's Basketball Coaches Association High School All-America Game presented by Nike (NKE). A host of charitable activities and hands-on educational experiences for area students will also be held in conjunction with the Final Four. Selected middle schools will participate in the NCAA Middle School Madness program, linking classroom learning for students in the 6th through 8th grades with the Women's Final Four. Another cool Saloc activity for young women is the NCAA Girls Junior Journalism Workshop. Workshop winners will observe Final Four team practices on Apr. 3, participate in coaches' press conferences, and receive instruction from local journalists. Stories generated by the participants will be posted at www.ncaa.com/finalfour. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro notes that the Alamo City is well-versed at hosting such a high-caliber event. When UConn took it all in 2002, the Alamodome broke the record for the largest crowd ever to attend an NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship, at 29,619.