March ratings madness came a little early for ESPN.
Its full court press coverage of the Duke/North Carolina game March 4 was the highest-rated college basketball game in the history of the network, and the fourth-most-watched basketball game of any kind on ESPN.
To break the record, ESPN is tallying up the coverage on both ESPN and ESPN2, where the game was covered from an "above the rim" camera.
The audience on both nets combined averaged 3.78 million households. The previous high was for ESPN-only coverage of an NCAA tournament game between Princeton and Arkansas in 1990, according to the network. (ESPN gets early round match-ups in the upcoming tournament, which has become known as "March Madness.")
The traditional coverage of the Duke/Carolina game on ESPN was no slacker, either, averaging a 3.5 rating, the best college basketball number since a 3.5 in January 2002 for a Maryland/Duke game. The ESPN2 rating was a .7, 40% above its average for college hoops cablecasts.
ESPN gave the game its Full Circle treatment, essentially roadblocking it across its various platforms, including college sports net ESPNU, the Web site, and print products. ESPN plans a similar cross-platform "event" strategy for the Monday Night Football game it is taking over from ABC in the fall.