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Story Highlights
  • Dayton, Michigan, Virginia and Arizona are the optimal Final Four teams for TV ratings
  • A Dayton-Michigan championship game would draw a projected 22.2 million viewers
  • The biggest duds in the Final Four would be Stanford-Connecticut and Baylor-Tennessee
Dayton vs. Michigan would be top TV draw

Cinderella teams bust a lot of brackets, but they are a boon to Madison Avenue.

While everyone else makes predictions about which teams will advance to the Final Four, a pair of statisticians from Brigham Young University has forecast which teams would deliver the biggest TV ratings.

According to their projections, the dream Final Four scenario is Dayton versus Virginia at an estimated 17.2 million viewers and Michigan versus Arizona at an estimated 16 million viewers.

If you’re surprised to see the Dayton Flyers in that group, don’t be. The BYU researchers recently published a study showing that little-known schools and major underdogs draw higher ratings than powerhouse programs and schools from major TV markets.

“Our model is exclusively about the Final Four, and if a smaller team squeaks in, viewer demand will go up,” said Paul Sabin, a statistics student at BYU.

With BYU statistics professor Scott Grimshaw, Sabin co-authored the study in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sport that found NCAA Men’s Final Four games featuring a Cinderella team will have a 35 percent larger TV audience. That translates to a few million extra viewers, something that puts a smile on advertising executives’ faces.

This year the dream championship matchup according to their statistical model is Dayton versus Michigan, which would draw an estimated 22.2 million TV viewers.

“Ad inventory for the NCAA tournament was 95% sold out before the teams were even announced, and now advertisers are hoping lots of eyeballs will show up,” Grimshaw said. “Ohio State losing in the first round made a lot of Madison Avenue people sad because that’s a big draw, that’s a big team, big conference. But if Dayton keeps going, then it will be even better for them.”

Cinderella status is by no means the only thing that influences ratings. Expectation of a close game, the star power of the coach, and the team’s appeal within a regional market are a few of the other factors that count.

The worst-case Final Four scenario for TV ratings would pair Stanford against Connecticut (11.4 million projected viewers) and Tennessee against Baylor (12.7 million).

Sabin’s own tournament bracket isn’t doing too badly, either. Despite a wild first weekend, he’s sitting at the 90th percentile with his championship pick, Florida, still looking strong.

Virginia Tech has offered a spot in their Ph.D. statistics program to Sabin, who will graduate next month from BYU. Ohio State is also showing interest in this talented recruit. He’s one of a few hundred graduates that will launch from BYU this year into top Ph.D. programs around the country. In terms of volume, BYU is ranked 5thin the nation for the number of graduates who go on to get a Ph.D.