SBD/February 4, 2011/Media

Fox Could Set Viewership Record If Steelers-Packers Is Close

Fox officials indicated that a "tight fourth-quarter game" could see Sunday's Packers-Steelers Super Bowl XLV "set a new viewership record," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. A record "seems likely," as NFL ratings "over the past 24 months have been astronomical." But Fox publicly is "playing it cool." Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO David Hill: "One of the things I've learned over the years is you never, ever make predictions about ratings. We are thrilled with the matchup, naturally, and all the ratings that we have had this season have been fantastic. We expect that to continue in the Super Bowl" (SI.com, 2/3). In L.A., Joe Flint writes, "Thanks to a record-breaking regular season for viewership and ubiquitous parties this weekend, the National Football League's signature event is poised to become the most watched television program in American history." The Super Bowl's "rise to the zenith of national pop culture events is no accident, but rather due to a savvy marketing strategy that has been amped up over recent years." Through a "combination of better cooperation with its television partners, marketing to women and a not-so-subtle linking of football to patriotism, the NFL has managed to expand its reach while most other television properties have shrunk." A "key to keeping the league's fire burning was the NFL's ability to persuade the networks that carry the games to work together in hyping the league." As a result, highlights are "shared now and there is more cross-promotion of the NFL among networks and less squaring off against each other." Also, ratings data from ESPN, Fox, CBS and NBC indicated that female viewership "has risen dramatically, more than 20% compared with five years ago" (L.A. TIMES, 2/4).

PREGAME ENTERTAINMENT: In Boston, Chad Finn notes Fox has been "relentless in its promotion of Bill O'Reilly's interview with President Obama, which is expected to air at approximately" 4:30pm ET "as the pregame must-see." But for "those who put away their political inclinations on Super Bowl Sunday," Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw's "reportedly terse interview with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger .... should be compelling television" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/4). In N.Y., Bob Raissman notes Roethlisberger and Bradshaw "can't stand each other," as Bradshaw "has been dogging Roethlisberger, questioning his judgment even before Big Ben's motorcycle accident" in '06. "Fox NFL Sunday" Producer Scott Ackerson said of the interview, "I was very concerned. I knew the Steelers were concerned, too."  Raissman notes Ackerson "set one ground rule, no one from Fox or the Steelers would be allowed in the room" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/4). SI.com's Deitsch wrote the interview is "likely to be the most-talked about feature of the pregame," as Bradshaw "has arguably been Roethlisberger's most public critic." Meanwhile, Ackerson said that viewers during the pregame and postgame "should expect a little less of the traditional features involving Player X and Y," as Fox instead "will deploy a talk-show style format from a set on the north side of the stadium before" 5:00pm. TMZ "joins the pregame to report on the party scene during Super Bowl week," and Fox "will once again have a collection of current and former NFL stars reading the Declaration of Independence." Ackerson said that Fox "would discuss" the league's labor situation during the pregame "but not dwell on it" (SI.com, 2/3).

MIKED UP: Fox NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira will be in the booth on Sunday, and Fox Sports Media Group co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said of Pereira's first year in the role, "I can honestly say it's beyond our wildest dreams how well it's gone. To be honest, when I watch other guys do football, whether it's college or pro, I just don't know how you do a game without Mike. We're sitting there filling for 3 minutes sometimes when a (referee) is under the hood, and we're just wondering how other people do this now." Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Jeff Janiczek writes "one controversial topic" Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman "might not be able to avoid is the fact that Super Bowl XLV could be the final NFL game fans see for a while, because of the upcoming uncertain labor situation." Buck said if Aikman "opens the door to that or if something dawns on me to go there, maybe we will." But he added, "If we're talking work stoppage in this upcoming Super Bowl, then we're not going to have a good Super Bowl" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/4). Deitsch wrote, "Don't expect talk of NFL labor unrest during the broadcast. It's unlikely to happen unless it's a blowout" (SI.com, 2/3).

WHAT SMALL MARKETS? In St. Louis, Dan Caesar writes if the Pirates and Brewers were playing for a championship, "all the TV talk this week would be about what a monumental failure the World Series would be because of the small-market teams involved." But the "NFL equivalent, Pittsburgh-Green Bay, is generating no such banter." Caesar: "Quite the contrary, as massive ratings are predicted." That is "because not only are two of the most storied teams in the league's history involved, the overriding fact is the NFL is the biggest thing going on American TV" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/4).
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