The NFL is the model pro sports league. Its weighted/revolving schedule presents many teams with a chance to elevate to the playoffs from the basement the season year before, while its billions in varied revenue sources, TV chief among them, seemingly flow unabated.
Super Bowl XLVI is looking to extend the NFL Championship audience for a seventh consecutive year, which would make Comcast’s NBC the holder (until XLVII) of the most-viewed telecast in American history. Advertisers are plunking down an average of $3.5 million 30-second spot to advertise in the Big Game.
But not all is always well at the Super Bowl (good luck getting to and parking at Met Life Stadium in 2014). Following last year’s weather disaster in Arlington that injured Jerry’s World and made ingress to his palace an hours-long ordeal, Dallas Cowboys owner Jones shoehorned in more bodies that his venue could accommodate, in pursuit of an attendance record. Hundreds found unsafe/unready seats, their trips of lifetime undermined by ego and greed.
There has been nothing egregious in Indy this time around. But the league showed bad form on Friday, when commissioner Roger Goodell, during his state of the league address, said that NFL Network will increase its primetime package from eight games to 13 during the 2012 season.
On Sept. 8, the declaration of ESPN’s $15.2 billion, nine-season renewal of Monday Night Football and other rights, upstaged the 2011 season opener that night between the last two Super Bowl winners, Green Bay and New Orleans on NBC, just weeks after the league and its players resolved their lockout woes. It was the same difference on Feb. 3, the NFL Network schedule upgrade could have waited.
Then again, Goodell’s timing may have been brilliant in deflecting criticism from the move. What’s good news for the league’s in-house network, doesn’t play so well for CBS and Fox, which are again losing games to build NFL Network’s expanded Thursday Night Football package. Residential and commercial subscribers to DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket will also forfeit games, perhaps furthering weakening the out-of-market package’s already soft 4 p.m. schedule.
While Goodell positioned the change as one that will give every team primetime exposure, it also means that each squad will now be exposed to the physical, game-planning and travel rigors of playing a second game just four days after a Sunday confrontation.
More importantly, the maneuver may be a trojan horse of sorts, a bit of research reconnaissance about injuries and quality ofplay, as the league looks to move toward an 18-game regular-season in 2013 or beyond. Whether that could also result in another primetime package (or two, leaving NFL Network in a cheerleading role) remains to be seen.
Of course, the run-up to Super Bowl XLVI has been shrouded in the mystery about the ankle injury to New England’s record-setting tight end Rob Gronkowski and whether he’ll be able to play and how effectively against Tom Coughlin’s New York Giants. But the Bronk’s medical issues were by no means the only injury capturing national headlines.
Peyton Manning, big brother of Giants QB Eli, missed the entire 2012 season due to problems with nerves regenerating in his neck. Peyton’s future Indy and whether he can resume his career there or elsewhere has been a topic du jour. His comments about the changes for the worse in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium, Colts’ owner Robert Irsay’s angry reaction to Peyton airing that dirty laundry, and the fact that they’re still best of buds have been well-documented. Then came reports that No. 18 had been cleared medically to play, presumably allaying retirement fears, while further fueling stories about where the MVP of Super Bowl XLI will play next season and beyond. Will Peyton prove to be the most-pursued free agent of all-time and all that.
Given Peyton’s on-field exploits over his Hall of Fame career are one of the primary reasons the Big Game landed in downtown Indianapolis, it was obvious this Manning was going to be front in center in Super Bowl XLVI, either as player or ambassador. After an early statement about his progress, Manning should have been muzzled. The NFL could have taken a page from MLB’s playbook and put off all business dealings (never mind that A-Rod contract opt-out bit during the 2007 World Series) until after the conclusion of its showcase event.
As for the game itself, the combatants, the league and NBC are lucky this is not a rematch of the Harbaugh brothers’ historic coaching matchup on Thanksgiving night, which drew an NFL Network record of 10.7 million viewers. Turkey night matchups, by the way, will now air on the Peacock going forward.
The Giants benefited from a pair of fumbles by San Francisco substitute punt returner Kyle Williams to advance 20-17 in overtime in the NFC championship game, while the Patriots depended on the largesse of Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff missing a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC title tilt into overtime. A query about whether there would have been a review if Wes Welker had a game-winning TD stripped by a Ravens defender in the final minute elicited an angry response from an NFL official this past week.
Regardless of their arrival points, it’s a juicy rematch of Super Bowl XLII, when Eli, a miracle grab by David Tyree and the fierce pass rush of the Giants’ defensive line, crushed Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s dream of 19-0 NFL perfection. Whereas New England was favored by a dozen in the 2008 game, the line, after opening at 4, now has the Pats as a 2.5-point choice. The last three times these teams have met — 2007 season-concluder went 38-35 to the Patriots just weeks before their 2008 Super Bowl meeting, while the Week 9 confrontation on Nov. 6 went to New York 24-20 — the largest margin of victory has been four points.
But there are many other intriguing options for those who would like to engage in the aspect of business that also helps make the NFL the king of U.S. sports. Vegas has put the over/under number at a combined 54 for these high-scoring teams. There are various odds on who will be the MVP, with Brady and Manning topping the list. You can also put down a nickel on whether it will take Kelly Clarkson more or less than 1:34 minutes to sing the national anthem and if Madonna will wear fishnet stockings during any part of her halftime performance.
From the TV perspective, there is under/over action on the national rating of a 47.5 and 115 million viewers, a level that would shatter last year’s U.S. record audience of 111 million who saw the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. You can also invest a penny on which region, Boston, Nielsen DMA No. 7 is at -7, or New York, DMA No. 1 at +7, will generate the higher local TV rating, and if more/less than 1.5 million will stream the game on NBCSports.com or NFL.com.
Whatever your NFL business, or if you’re merely a fan, good luck and enjoy Super Bowl XLVI.
Go Big Blue!!!