Tim Tebow and even the Green Bay Packers lost games on Sunday, but the National Football League just continues to ride one big long winning streak overall — and America's TV networks and by association their key brand-marketer advertisers have agreed to go along for the ride for the next decade.
As anticipated, TV viewership for Sunday evening's game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, and quarterbacks Tebow and Tom Brady, was the most-watched NFL game so far of a very much-watched season. It also gave CBS its best overnight rating for an NFL regular-season game in four years, during which the NFL and big advertisers such as Ford, Anheuser-Busch, Verizon and State Farm Insurance have come to dominate U.S. TV ratings each year even before the end-of-the-season Super Bowl.
The kind of results they got on Sunday are why broadcasters were willing to agree to fork over about 60 percent more on average to air NFL games from 2014 to 2022 in a pact reached with the league last week.
Football remains one of the few DVR-proof programs that still draws tens of millions of viewers who watch it live, the Wall Street Journal notes, while most of the rest of the TV audience is fragmenting among hundreds of channels and alternative viewing options including the internet.
Each of the networks was more than happy to accept essentially the continuation of the pieces they have now: Fox, the National Football Conference; CBS, the American Football Conference; and NBC a mix of the conferences on Sunday Night Football. The Big Three networks will continue to alternate airing the Super Bowl. ESPN also signed a new deal, for Monday Night Football, and the league's own NFL Network also will continue to carry some games in addition to its analysis and archival coverage.
The hefty size of the increase in the TV package underscored the vast and growing superiority enjoyed by the NFL over other professional sports leagues because of its brand and financial management as well as the Xs and Os on the field. Major League Baseball, for instance, still has a huge problem with competitive imbalances between big- and smaller-market teams, while the NBA is about to find out whether its fans — and brand advertisers — care nearly as much about a shortened season as a real one after finally reaching labor peace.
Enabling such a record-popping broadcasting agreement was NFL owners' insistence to the league's players' union, in ending the lockout last summer, that their new collective bargaining agreement stand up for 10 years without any possibility of a sixth-year opt-out that the union really wanted, reports Peter King of Sports Illustrated in a chronology of how the new TV deal went down. Only with such a guarantee of stability for a decade could the NFL get the TV networks to pony up the way they have.
December TV viewing should just keep getting better for the NFL, with team competition for playoff spots generating fan enthusiasm -- and a full slate of NFL broadcasts on Christmas weekend providing a bit of frosting.
So if Aunt Helen takes just a bit too long taking the wrapping paper off of her gift on Christmas Eve, there'll be time for a quick check of the crucial Cowboys-Eagles game. It should end about when it's time to break open the egg nog.