The griping on Selection Sunday this year may pertain to more than just schools that were seeded unfairly or bubble teams wrongly left out of the field.
Expect some of the complaints to take aim at an ill-conceived tweak to the format of this year’s Selection Show.
CBS Sports and Turner Sports announced Tuesday they intend to begin Sunday’s show by unveiling the 68 teams that made the NCAA tournament. Hosts Greg Gumbel and Ernie Johnson will reveal the 32 teams that secured automatic bids and the 36 recipients of at-large bids one by one in alphabetical order before moving on to releasing the brackets and the matchups.
Harold Bryant, Executive Producer and Senior Vice President at CBS Sports, told Yahoo Sports that the the goal is to announce which 68 teams made the field in the first 15 minutes of the show and to unveil the brackets within the first 45 minutes. Executives at both CBS and Turner are very cognizant of the importance of not dragging out the reveal any longer than that.
Two years ago, the networks broke with tradition and interspersed picks and analysis after each of the four regions was unveiled. Not only did they receive intense backlash from impatient viewers, the full bracket actually leaked on social media before the Selection Show had unveiled two of the regions on TV.
“We tried to spread the show out a little bit two years ago thinking we could build even more drama, but what we heard from fans is they want information quickly,” Bryant said. “That’s what we’re going to do this time around. We’re going to provide all the teams very quickly, then bracket it and we are going to have this done within the same 45-minute range that we’ve done for years.”
It’s good that CBS and Turner are sensitive to the importance of releasing the bracket efficiently, but that’s not the only potential issue created by this year’s new format. Revealing the 68 teams in the field at the start of the show eliminates the drama of learning which bubble teams made the field and which did not as the brackets are unveiled.
What CBS and Turner are counting on is that the mystery of where teams are seeded and who they will face will be enough to keep viewers interested beyond the first 15 minutes of the show.
“There won’t be as much drama throughout the first 45 minutes about the bubble teams, but there will still be a lot of intrigue about who’s playing who, what sites they’re going to and what the future matchups are throughout the brackets,” Bryant said. “We don’t think there will be any drop off in the excitement of the show.”
The notion that the full audience will stick around seems overly optimistic. Fans of bubble teams that did not make the field will have little reason to keep watching and fans of bubble teams that did make the cut might decide they can just look up who their team is facing later Sunday evening.
The tweaked format of the Selection Show is just one of the ways that CBS and Turner are breaking with tradition this year. The show itself will air at 6 p.m. ET on TBS instead of CBS and a live studio audience will inject energy into the telecast with their reactions to what teams make the field and where they’re seeded.
The stakes with any changes to the Selection Show are high given the money CBS and Turner have invested.
The networks signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal to broadcast the NCAA tournament in 2010 and announced an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension last year. A key element of the deal was the exclusive rights to unveil the brackets on the selection show, which typically eclipses the ratings for every regular season college basketball game each season.
When Turner and CBS first partnered, they focused on the logistics of airing NCAA tournament games on four networks instead of one, creating a streaming platform for viewers and seamlessly integrating their on-air talent. Only a couple years ago did they start discussing different ways of presenting the Selection Show.
“This isn’t a conversation that just happened yesterday,” Craig Barry, Turner Sports executive vice president and chief content officer, told Yahoo Sports. “We’ve been thinking about this for literally the last two or three years. We’ve tried some things with some success and some with not as much success over the past couple years. Now we think we’re ready to take a swing and evolve the show.”
On Sunday evening, we’ll find out whether viewers feel that CBS and Turner managed to keep the Selection Show fresh without straying too far from tradition.
The guess here is the changes will be perceived as an attempt to fix something that wasn’t broken.
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