The opening round of the US collegiate men's basketball’s 2024 NCAA Division I tournament drew the highest first-round viewership for the competition in five years.

Headlined by the defeat of 3rd seed Kentucky by 14th seed Oakland, March 21 saw a strong opening day of viewership for the annual collegiate basketball tournament, averaging a combined 8.5 million viewers per viewership window across a number of major US TV networks.

The highest opening day average since 2019 also saw the most-watched individual opening day fixture since 2019, with Oakland’s 80-76 victory over Kentucky drawing 6.21 million viewers on national network CBS, the most for any opening day game in the tournament since Duke vs North Dakota State five years ago.

In drawing 6.21 million, the Oakland vs Kentucky fixture drew an 81% increase in viewership from the equivalent slot in 2023 (Duke vs Oral Roberts), and a rise in 14% from the equivalent fixture in 2022, which saw another Kentucky upset loss against Saint Peters.

Coverage of the single-elimination tournament, known as March Madness, is jointly produced by Paramount Global-owned CBS Sports, and Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD)-owned TBS, and is broadcast across the two as well as WBD’s sports-focused TNT network, and lifestyle-focused TruTV.

The 2024 edition of the competition is also the first where all games broadcast on WBD-owned networks will in addition be streamed on the company’s Max (formerly HBO Max) streaming service through its Bleacher Report Sports paid add-on.

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TBS and CBS alternate coverage of the competition’s 'Final Four' national semi-finals and championship final year by year, with TBS set to broadcast the showpiece games in 2024 as part of the two’s broadcast agreement with the NCAA governing body, which is set to run through 2032.

The unpredictable nature of the tournament that throws up constant surprises, combined with the fervent nature of college sports support in the US, means that the March Madness tournament is a constant viewership draw every year.

It is also a major attraction for businesses wishing to activate around the high-profile event.

Most recently, US home improvement retail chain Home Depot announced a multi-year partnership with the NCAA to activate around March Madness in particular.

Through a three-year deal, Home Depot has acquired rights as an official corporate partner across all 90 of the NCAA’s championships, including March Madness, and its Division 1 women’s equivalent.

The NCAA and Home Depot are activating around the ongoing competition through a co-branded March Madness-based advertising campaign featuring basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal.