Rivalries, Ratings, and Revenue

Duke v North Carolina

(from Sports Business Journal, November 12, 2012) The rivalry between college basketball teams at Duke and North Carolina brings great appeal to sports fans. Duke-North Carolina games draw some of the largest amounts of viewers in regular-season college basketball.

“It’s the game that’s on everyone’s bucket list,” North Carolina Tar Heels Athletic Director, Bubba Cunningham, said, “It’s that perfect combination of a regional game with national appeal.”

The viewership success is not based on luck or chance. Duke and North Carolina do not normally play until mid-February. By this time of year, football is over, and fans can focus on the heat of such competitions. “There’s a real strategy to how the game is scheduled,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

The game between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels has drawn so much attention and fans that the teams play two times each season. Having two games increases business for both schools, media holder rights and networks that broadcast the game.

In addition to revenue, last season’s highest rated game was the regular-season finale between Duke and North Carolina with a 2.7 rating on ESPN 4.25 million total viewers.

Duke donors made their way to the game from as far as Switzerland and Taiwan. Some of the donors have given more than $1 million to Duke basketball. Seeing the opportunity, Duke President, Richard Brodhead, hosted close to 300 donors. If not for the game, it would be nearly impossible to get that number of donors together.

Recent scheduling decision made it clear how the rivalry is viewed in the conference. Other matchups have tried playing two games, but the North Carolina-Duke meetings are the only one which persevered. The rivalry is a primary point around which TV contracts are negotiated and TV schedules are set. The importance placed on the games goes beyond the teams; it is strategic planning for the entire conference.