Presence of unbeaten Pats all but guarantees huge viewership
From some perspectives, Super Bowl XLII doesn't seem like must-see TV.There's a yawning two-touchdown point spread between the favored New England Patriots and the New York Giants, suggesting a yawner of a game.
There's a dreadful lack of geographic diversity. The NFL championship game is being played in Glendale, Ariz., but the playoffs eliminated every team west of New Jersey. That begs the question: Will an all-Northeast matchup play in Peoria, Ill.? Or in California?Yet, this could be the first Super Bowl to top 100 million TV viewers, in terms of total average audience. The current high-water mark was set back in 1996, when the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 before an audience of 94.1 million. While the Super Bowl has remained a mortal lock to be the highest-rated TV program of the year, it hasn't been able to match its record in more than a decade. Last year's Indianapolis Colts-Chicago Bears game came closest, attracting an audience of 93.2 million. This year, though, Fox Sports could be poised to take the game to a new level in terms of total eyeballs. How? Call it the "Patriots Premium." All season, the ratings for Pats' games have been like Nielsens on steroids. The four most-viewed regular-season NFL games in 2007 involved New England: Oct. 14 versus Dallas, Nov. 4 versus Indianapolis, Dec. 9 versus Pittsburgh and Dec. 29 versus the Giants.Stew Milne/US PresswireThis dynamic duo (well, half of it is dynamic, anyway) makes people want to watch the Patriots.
That regular-season finale against New York, in which the Patriots completed the first undefeated regular season since 1972, was simulcast on three networks on a Saturday night and drew the biggest audience for a regular-season NFL game (34.5 million viewers) since the Kansas City Chiefs played the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day in 1995. The Nov. 4 Colts game attracted the most viewership for a regular-season Sunday afternoon game (33.8 million) since records were first kept in 1987.The Patriots Premium will almost surely carry over to the Super Bowl. The team's perfect season and its distinctive cast -- from glamour quarterback Tom Brady to dour coach Bill Belichick -- is reality TV writ large. This team is on the radar screens of people who hardly ever put football games on their TV screens.
"The Patriots are not just chasing the Giants, they're chasing history," wrote Robert Seidman on the Web site TVbytheNumbers.com, which tracks and analyzes Nielsen ratings. "With Golden Boy Tom Brady and the villainous Bill Belichick in pursuit of 19-0, it's easy to predict record-high viewership for this year's Super Bowl."
Top 5 Super Bowl Audiences
Can Super Bowl XLII top the average number of viewers who, according to Nielsen Media Research, tuned in to these games? The prospects look good.
THE EYES HAVE IT Super Bowl Date Avg. audience Teams SBXXX Jan. 28, 1996 94.1 million Cowboys-Steelers SBXLI Feb. 4, 2007 93.2 million Bears-Colts SBXX Jan. 26, 1986 92.6 million Bears-Patriots SBXXVII Jan. 31, 1993 91 million Cowboys-Bills SBXL Feb. 5, 2006 90.7 million Seahawks-Steelers
Seidman predicts Super Bowl XLII will not only top the mark set in 1996, but exceed 100 million. Spokesmen for the NFL and Nielsen declined to speculate on the record being broken."This has a definite shot [at the record]," said John Mansell, a TV sports analyst and consultant. "Between the size of the teams' markets and all the storylines, I think it's going to do very big numbers." "It should certainly be in the running [for the record]," said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. "There's something in this game for everybody to root against. There are a lot of people around the country pulling for Tom Brady, but also a lot who hope he leaves the field with walking casts on both feet. And everybody here on the Left Coast is happy to root against anything New York."
The total Super Bowl audience could have edged even higher if the Green Bay Packers had defeated the Giants in the NFC championship game and made it to Arizona, Seidman believes, because of the Packers' national following and the Brett Favre factor.
"People know him and like him," Seidman said in an interview. "I don't think that's true of [Giants quarterback] Eli Manning."
On the other hand, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said, "If you've got every TV household in the No. 1 market [New York] watching that game, that's pretty significant."
The NFC championship game did add an alluring story line, as the Giants had to upset tough opponents on the road in Dallas and Green Bay to fight their way to Glendale. In addition, that frosty game, played in sub-zero temperatures, brought huge Nielsen ratings -- 10 percent higher than those of last year's NFC title contest between Chicago and the New Orleans Saints -- further pointing to the potential for a mega-audience for Super Bowl XLII.
But in the end, the quality of this Super Bowl will be crucial to the size of the audience, said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now a broadcast consultant. The Patriots' mystique can attract casual viewers, but a good contest is required to retain them. Along with some great commercials, of course.
"If it's a blowout, it doesn't matter who's playing," he said.John Helyar is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He previously covered the business of sports for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine and is the author of "Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball."
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SUPER BOWL XLII
Game coverage• Belichick ready to move on from Super Bowl loss
• Nevada sports books lose record $2.6M
• View to a thrill: Record 97.5 million watch XLII
• Giants' win shatters viewership records
• Clayton: Can the Giants repeat?
• Simmons: Free fallin'
• Giants spoil Pats' perfect season
• Wojciechowski: Blame Pats for this debacle
• Wickersham: Brady dazed and confused
• Clayton: Eli lets instincts take over
• Clayton: N.Y. 'misfits' harass Brady
• Sando: Was Brady rattled?
• Mosley: Belichick left a second early
• Chadiha: Ten things we learned
• Garber: Tyree's catch one for the ages
• Zoom galleries 1 | 2 | Great SB upsets
• SportsNation: Best Super Bowl?
• SportsNation: Biggest SB upset?
• SportsNation: Your favorite commercials?
Commentary/Features• Clayton: Top five contenders for the next SB
• '72 Fins breathe sigh of relief after Giants win
• Chadiha: Giants enjoy underdog role
• Sando: Coughlin, Giants made it work
• Super Bowl picks: Our experts weigh in
• Merrill: Nine previously perfect Patriots
• Merrill: Harrison deals with his rep just fine
• Clayton: Giants' O-line worthy of accolades
• Pasquarelli: Tip Sheet
• Pasquarelli: Tip Sheet notes
• Wojciechowski: 15 reasons Patriots will win
• E-ticket: Patriots' man of mystery
• Sunday Countdown
• Clayton's First and Goal
• Chadiha: Giants miss Shockey
• Garber: Injured war vet inspires Giants
• Pasquarelli: The Pats' crucial cameos
• Garber: In Brady's world, insecurity remains
• Merrill: Hixon's traumatizing season
• Football Outsiders: SB numbers crunching
• Pasquarelli: Patriots' silent sentinel
• Wojciechowski: Unflappable Eli
• Sando: Brady rising among all-time QBs
• Chadiha: Giants' rookies playing prominent role
• Fleming: Cardinals/Pottsville Curse
• Clayton: Youth serving Giants well
• Chadiha: Ranking the best QBs by decade
• Klancnik: Top QBs by jersey number
• Hashmarks: Media day coverage | Gallery
• Pasquarelli: Pats' old-school LBs
• Helyar: Marketing windfall for Eli Manning
• Garber: Seau's ring quest
• Pasquarelli: Bruschi's full-circle journey
• Animated plays
• From the research room
• Chadiha: Pierce just wants to win
• Wojciechowski: Explaining Bill Belichick
• Helyar: Recession? Not at Super Bowl!
• Giants' Snee doesn't stray from roots
• Sando: Seymour in eye of storm
• Merrill: Welker scales new heights for Pats
• Pasquarelli: Brady is ready to play
• Garber: The preservation of Plaxico
• Pasquarelli: Hill's spirit lives on
• Clayton: Giants' juggling act at CB works
• Wickersham: Giant ideas
• Klosterman: All too perfect
• Crown Jewels: A look at Super Bowl rings
• FB Outsiders: Giants one of worst SB teams
• Helyar: Patriots will drive TV ratings
• Clayton: First and goal
• Chadiha: Giants' glory road
• Mosley: Brady's ankle saves the week
• Woj: Preseason predictions revisited
• Merrill: David Woodley's dark spotlight
• Former SB QBs: Plunkett | Rypien | Ferragamo
• More: Morton | Humphries | Hostetler | Eason
• Starting matchups of Super Bowl QBs
• Ranking the QB performances: 1-40 | 41-82
• Jaworski: Six Super Bowl surprises
• Joyner: Brady's bad decisions
• Clayton: Eli's managing fine
• Chadiha: Focused Giants
• AccuScore simulation: Pats to prevail
• Chadiha: First Look at the Super Bowl
• Playoff schedule
• Vermeil doubts spying made difference for Pats
• Fish: Ex-Ram Warner suspicious of Pats in SB XXXVI
• Report: Pats taped Rams' SB walk-through
• Specter to Goodell: Let's talk
• Fish: Possible 'Spygate' witness surfaces
• Easterbrook: NFL can blame itself for scandal's timing
• Munson: Congressional interest serious
• Pasquarelli: Specter should stick with politics
• Clayton: Spy saga won't distract Patriots
• Hashmarks at Goodell's news conference
• Specter to Goodell (.pdf)
• Goodell to Specter (.pdf)
Page 2• Gallo: Five stages of heartbreak for Pats' fans
• Hill: Best Super Bowl parties
• Hill: Teflon Tom Brady
• Popculture roundtable on the Super Bowl
• Hill: Raiders quit on Moss
• Flem File at the Super Bowl
• Fleming: Defining greatness
• Best teams never to win a title
• TMQ: Title-game analysis
• Why Boston teams are so good
• Gallo: Countdown to kickoff
• More from Page 2
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• Brady on Plax prediction: Only 17 points for Pats?
• Carey named first black Super Bowl referee
• Brady practices in Pats' first Super Bowl session
• Ross gets sick as unified Giants face flu
• NFL not worried about spying
• Security high for Super Bowl
• Williams to be honored during Super Bowl
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• Burress: Giants' receivers are better
Scouts Inc.• Roundtable: Seven scouts weigh in
• Super Bowl XLII X Factors
• Coaching comparison: Styles vary, results same
• Defensive line breakdowns
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 5)
• Matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLII
• Running-game breakdown
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 4)
• QB tale of the the tape
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 3)
• Ranking NFL QBs 1-64
• Take II on Super Bowl XLII
• Giants' DBs overmatched or underrated?
• Horton: Notes from film room (Day 2)
• Horton: 10 things to watch in SB XLII
• Horton: Notes from the film room (Day 1)
• A tale of two underrated O-lines
• Take I on Super Bowl XLII
• Players ranked Nos. 1-106
SportsNation• Vote: Which team will win?
• Vote: Who wins the head-to-head matchups?
• Vote: Which team are you rooting for?
• Conversation: Talk Super Bowl XLII
• Map: Which states are picking the Giants?
• Quiz: 42 Super Bowl history questions
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Hello from Arizona!
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live from Media Day
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with oddsmaker
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with Matt Hasselbeck
• Chat: Buzzmaster: Live with Gregg Easterbrook
• Rank: Super Bowl's best individual performances
• Rank: Super Bowl coaches
• Rank: Super Bowl careers
• Rank: Super Bowl teams
• Rank: Super Bowl games
• Rank: Greatest all-time quarterbacks
• Vote: Potential for QB greatness?
• Quiz: Greatest quarterbacks
• ABCNews: Super Bowl or Super Tuesday?
• Chat Rewind: When did undefeated talk start?
• Vote: Can we proposition you?
• Pulse: What is SportsNation saying about XLII?
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