The 32 most watched United States TV programs of all time, according to WIkipedia, include 30 Super Bowls, the M*A*S*H series finale and the 2016 presidential debates.
Way, way down the list is Duke men’s basketball’s second-round victory against Michigan State, which aired on CBS Sunday night and drew 11.2 million viewers, enough to make it the most watched game of the NCAA tournament’s first weekend and the most viewed second-round matchup since Duke’s 2019 defeat of Central Florida.
So how do those 11.2 million people stack up to other broadcasts? Let’s take a look.
Super Bowl XLIX - 114.4 million people
The most watched broadcast of all time was Super Bowl XLIX, which saw Tom Brady and the New England Patriots take on reigning champions Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. There are a multitude of reasons this particular Super Bowl attracted the eyes of over a third of the U.S. population. The Seahawks’ potential repeat championship, the potential end of the Patriots’ 10-year Super Bowl drought, two of the biggest names in the sport battling it out, and a halftime show from multi platinum Grammy-winner Katy Perry. Some even speculate that Brady and Wilsons’ high-profile significant others, supermodel Gisele Bündchen and popstar Ciara, respectively, drew extra viewers to the game.
The Blue Devils’ recent date with the Spartans did not come close to the 114 million people who watched Super Bowl XLIX, of course. However, it’s a little crazy to think that one-tenth the number of people who watched a program chock full of some of the most influential pop culture icons of the 21st century tuned in to watch a mere Round-of-32 matchup.
1994 Winter Olympics women’s singles figure skating - 78.8 million people
The women’s singles figure skating preliminaries of the 1994 Winter Olympics take the cake as the most watched non-Super Bowl sporting event of all time. This event notably came just weeks after eventual silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan was injured in an attack orchestrated by the ex-husband of American medal hopeful Tonya Harding. The scandal captured the attention of the entire country, so understandably nearly a third of Americans wanted to watch what became of the two controversy-embroiled figure skating starlets.
Duke’s viewership of 11.2 million clocks in at about a seventh of that event’s total, impressive considering the relative lack of controversy present in the Greenville, S.C., matchup.
President Joe Biden’s inauguration - 33.8 million people
After a dramatic 2020 presidential election that saw incumbent Donald Trump defeated by former vice president Joe Biden, approximately 33.8 million people turned on their TVs to watch Biden be sworn in as president and address the nation on Jan. 20, 2021. The inauguration became the third-most watched presidential inauguration in history, just behind Barack Obama's in 2009 and Ronald Reagan's in 1981.
Almost one-third of the number that watched Biden's swearing in watched Duke take down Michigan State. Pretty impressive.
2021 NBA Finals - average of 9.91 million people per game
The 2021 NBA Finals ended in six games after the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks toppled Devin Booker, Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns to capture the team’s first NBA championship in 50 years. The series was the first NBA Finals without either LeBron James or the Golden State Warriors since 2010 and it was also the first normal-looking Finals following the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the 2020 playoffs into a fan-less bubble.
The series’ viewership was an encouraging bump over decreased viewership during the pandemic, though it wasn’t quite as high as prior series. Game six, which crowned the Bucks champions, had an average of 12.5 million viewers, and the entire series averaged 9.91 million viewers.
2022 Duke-North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium - 3.98 million people
Duke’s regular-season closer against North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium, also known as Coach K’s final home game, drew 3.98 million viewers. It was far and away the most-viewed regular season college basketball game, tallying over a million more viewers than the second highest, which was Duke’s defeat of Gonzaga in November. Despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding Krzyzewski’s retirement, it still didn’t garner quite as many viewers as the Duke-North Carolina matchups from Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett's time at Duke in 2019. However, those still came in at just over four million people.
The tournament typically draws more viewers than any regular season game no matter how momentous. Still, it’s impressive how much the Blue Devils’ recent viewership dwarfed such a significant game.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.