Rankings: March Madness, NHL, WBC and more

For the second night in a row, the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament delivered a viewership milestone. Also: a Disney Channel simulcast boosted NHL viewership on ESPN; The World Baseball Classic neared a tournament high on FS1; and more, including a low season for the XFL.

Men’s tournament scores the largest crowd in the first round ever

Friday’s coverage of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament averaged 9.3 million viewers per window across CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV, per Nielsen fast-nationals — the largest audience on record for the opening Friday game. The figures include the streaming platform March Madness Live.

The entire first round of the tournament averaged 9.2 million per window, also the highest on record.

NHL’s Disney simulcast among top games on cable this season

Tuesday’s Capitals-Rangers NHL regular season game averaged 765,000 viewers across ESPN (589K) and a special simulcast on Disney and Disney XD in which players were animated to resemble characters from the children’s show “Big City Greens” (176K).

The combined audience is the third-largest of the NHL season on cable, trailing only the Winter Classic (1.78M) and last Sunday’s Rangers-Penguins (807K), both of which aired on TNT.

On TNT Wednesday night, Wild-Blues drew 348,000 viewers and Avalanche-Maple Leafs 318,000 — up 65% and down 36%, respectively, compared to last year’s corresponding games (Lightning-Kraken: 211K; Bruins-Wild: 499K).

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The World Baseball Classic is nearing tournament heights on FS1

Wednesday’s United States-Colombia World Baseball Classic game averaged 981,000 viewers on FS1, up 39% from the fourth U.S. game of the previous WBC six years ago — which aired on MLB Network (706K) — and the tournament’s second-largest audience . Last week’s UK v USA game averaged 1.48 million on the FOX broadcast network.

By comparison, the largest Major League Baseball crowd ever on FS1 is 980,000 for a 2018 Rays-Yankees game. (Because out-of-home viewing was not included in the 2018 numbers, it’s safe to assume that the game had a larger audience all things being equal.)

The Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic opener averaged 949,000, the largest crowd for a non-American WBC game so far and the third largest crowd in the tournament overall.

Plus: Midweek NBA, XFL season low, NHRA opener

Wednesday’s Warriors-Clippers NBA regular season game averaged 1.73 million viewers on ESPN, up 8% from a Celtics-Warriors NBA Finals preview last year (1.60 million). The Sixers-Cavaliers tune-in averaged 1.22 million, down 2% from Mavericks-Nets a year ago (1.25 million). … Thursday’s Houston-Seattle XFL regular-season game averaged 256,000 viewers on ESPN, the smallest XFL audience of the season on any network. The 10:30 PM ET kickoff was the last of all XFL games so far. The game was originally scheduled to air on FX at 9:00 PM ET. … Last weekend’s NHRA season opener from Gainseville (Fla.) averaged a 0.58 rating and 945,000 viewers on the FOX broadcast network, up 16% from the series average on the network last season (818K). Last year’s opener from Pomona took place a month earlier, was delayed and aired on FS1, averaging just 235,000.

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