Building Beyond Super Bowl 111 Million

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Before the New York Giants played the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 2, 2007, the notion of the NFL championship game playing before an average of 100 million viewers began to take root.

The team from the nation’s largest DMA was looking to slow down the then-undefeated New England Patriots and stop Tom Brady’s offensive juggernaut from surpassing the 1972 unbeaten Miami Dolphins in the record book.

The G-men’s monumental 17-14 upset in the final minute over Bill Belichick’s bunch also ushered in a quartet of close NFL championship games each of which has set a new Super Bowl average audience mark - from 97.4 million to 98.7 million for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLII and 106.5 million last year. CBS’s telecast of the New Orleans Saints’ triumph over the Indianapolis Colts surpassed the series finale of M*A*S*H in 1983 as the most-watched show in U.S. TV history.

The run of taut title tilts culminated with Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers holding off the Pittsburgh Steelers before some 111 million viewers at home with Fox  (and 103,219 in Cowboys Stadium, a total that fell short of the Super Bowl XIV record of 103,985 who watched the Steelers top the Los Angeles Rams at the Rose Bowl, because of the NFL’s and Jerry Jones’s Seatgate snafu).

Sunday’s thriller also marks the sixth straight year that Super Bowl viewership has increased. Fox happily pointed out Monday that over that span, the Big Game’s average audience has grown from 86.1 million in 2005 — when it televised New England’s victory over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX — by some 25 million viewers. That’s a 29% increase for those keeping score at home.

Next up: Comcast may get to brag about the top U.S. telecast of all-time as NBC holds the rights to Super Bowl XLVI in Indy in February 2012, provided the NFL and its players association don’t tackle next season in a labor dispute. If there’s peace, chances are Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will preside over what figures to be another record-setter on the small screen, before CBS reclaims the Nielsen crown with the Big Game in the Big Easy in 2013 and then Fox usurps the throne at the New Meadowlands Stadium with Super Bowl XVLIII, come 2014.

You get the idea: the NFL has never been a more popular product on TV. Presumably, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith won’t let their $9 billion industry breakdown, like the construction crews and ticket dispensers did at Jerry’s World on Super Sunday.

Guess that’s a case of if you don’t build it right, they can come in, but can’t sit down, even if they’ve spent thousands getting to arctic Arlington.

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