North Carolina's disappointing basketball season didn't turn out to be a deal buster with regional television viewers last week against Duke.
Although the Tar Heels entered the Feb. 10 game at 13-10 overall and 2-6 in the ACC, the 9 p.m. telecast was a big ratings hit as usual for Raleigh's WRAL and Charlotte's WBTV. Duke won, 64-54, to improve its record to 20-4 and 8-2.
WRAL turned a 22.1 rating, which equates to about 245,000 households. WBTV did a 17 rating or about 200,000 households.
"We were very happy with the number," WRAL sports anchor Jeff Gravley said. "It was in line for what the game usually does in our market. But going in, we didn't really know what to expect because it's so rare for both teams not to be ranked high nationally."
The game was televised nationally by ESPN, but was produced and distributed for most of North Carolina stations by Raycom, Inc. of Charlotte.
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said the national rating of 1.6 was impressive, as well.
"The number isn't as high as it would have been if we'd had the Carolinas markets," Krulewitz said. "But we were pleased."
When the Blue Devils and Tar Heels next play - March 6 at 9 p.m. in Durham - ESPN doesn't have to share any markets with Raycom. ESPN has exclusive rights to that game, and the ratings could yet suffer from Carolina's rough season.
But ESPN also could get a boost if Carolina goes into the game in need of a dramatic win to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. That, of course, seems likely.
Regardless of Carolina's record, the return match probably will pull down another big market number in the Triangle and the Charlotte area.
For the Jan. 26 UNC at N.C. State game, WRAL did an 18.7 rating, which equates to more than 205,000 regional households. The Tar Heels had a three-game losing streak entering that game and the Wolfpack was coming off an 88-64 loss to Maryland.
The Carolina and Duke games have become benchmark ratings events nationally and regionally over the years. Their game on March 4, 2006 - an 83-76 win for the Tar Heels - lured the largest audience for a college basketball game in ESPN history to that point and was the fourth-most watched basketball game in the cable company's history.
Almost four million households watched that game, which began with Duke ranked No. 1 and UNC No. 13 by The Associated Press.
UNC's win over Michigan State in last season's national championship game did a 10.8 national rating for CBS. At various times during the game, which Carolina dominated from the start and eventually won by 17 points, roughly 20 million sets were tuned to the game.