Miracle man Tom Brady, underdog Eagles save NBC from worst-case scenario

Sporting News
New England's comeback and Philly's domination give the Peacock Network the best TV market matchup possible from Championship Sunday.

Miracle man Tom Brady, underdog Eagles save NBC from worst-case scenario

New England's comeback and Philly's domination give the Peacock Network the best TV market matchup possible from Championship Sunday.

Tom Brady is famous for his late-game comebacks, and in pulling off yet another one over the weekend, he gave NBC Sports and the NFL one of their biggest gifts of these playoffs.

Before Championship Sunday, the network and the league were facing, of course, four possible Super Bowl 52 matchups, including the Jaguars vs. the Vikings. That one would have pitted a team from the nation's 47th-largest TV market (Jacksonville) against one from the 15th-biggest (Minneapolis-St. Paul), with the increased risk that average viewership for the Big Game could fall below 100 million for the first time in nearly a decade.

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Instead, Brady helped the Patriots erase a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and Cinderella quarterback Nick Foles led Philadelphia past Minnesota, creating what one industry expert considers the best possible TV scenario for NBC and the NFL.

Patriots- Eagles pits the No. 4 TV market (Philadelphia) vs. No. 9 (Boston). What's more, the game is a rematch of Super Bowl 39, in which Brady's Pats nipped Donovan McNabb's Eagles 24-21 in 2005.

Love Brady or hate him, believe in Foles or doubt him, they helped the suits in New York avoid a less scintillating ratings matchup of Blake Bortles vs. Case Keenum.

"The best matchup is Boston vs. Philadelphia," said media expert Brad Adgate. "You've got two top-10 markets. They've met in the Super Bowl before. They're the top two seeds."

Jags vs. Vikings, on the other hand, would have been a nightmare matchup, he added.

Last year's Super Bowl 51 telecast of New England vs. Atlanta drew an average 111.3 million viewers on Fox. Yes, Adgate knows the Super Bowl isn't nearly as dependent on matchups as the World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final, but matchups still matter. With Brady and the Patriots on the field, he predicts Super Bowl 52 will not dip below the key 100 million threshold for the first time since Steelers-Cardinals averaged 98.7 million at Super Bowl 43 in 2009.

The network knows Patriots Nation will watch its team's 10th Super Bowl appearance, with the 40-year-old Brady as the biggest TV draw, by far. But there's also such a thing as "Patriots Fatigue," with Brady and coach Bill Belichick appearing in their eighth Super Bowl together, including two of the last three. NBC has to be hoping some viewers will tune in if only to "hate-watch" the Pats, the way Yankees-haters do when the Bronx Bombers are on postseason TV.

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The conventional media wisdom is that the Super Bowl is bulletproof, no matter the matchup. The game ranks as the most-watched TV show of the year across all programming. Yet conventional wisdom has been wrong at times, evidenced by the NFL's alarming TV ratings drop over the past two seasons, whether because of illegal streaming or national anthem-related factors.


Since posting an all-time record of 114.4 million average viewers for Pats-Seahawks in Super Bowl 49, the Big Game's audience also has dropped two years in a row. The Pats' thrilling 34-28 comeback win over the Falcons at Super Bowl 51 dipped 2.2 percent from Super Bowl 50. It was the least-watched Big Game, on average, since Ravens-49ers drew 108.7 million viewers for Super Bowl 47 five years ago. The Broncos' win over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, meanwhile, was also down a tick, slipping 0.5 percent from Super Bowl 49 in 2015.

"It wouldn’t surprise me, based on how this season is, and how the postseason’s going, that the Big Game will also suffer a fall-off in audience delivery," warned Adgate, alluding to that ratings drop during the regular season and a decrease in viewership in the playoffs as well.

Even though the AFC and NFC championship games were the highest-rated TV shows since Super Bowl 51, the Eagles' 38-7 win over the Vikings on Sunday averaged 42.3 million viewers on Fox, down 9 percent from the 46.3 million for last year's comparable Falcons-Packers NFC championship. TV audience for this year's divisional and wild-card rounds fell 16 percent and 13 percent, respectively, vs. last year.

At stake for NBC is that between Super Bowl 52 and the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, on Feb. 7, it expects to reap a staggering $1.4 billion in advertising sales, according to Dan Lovinger, NBC's sports sales chief.

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NBC is charging Super Bowl 52 advertisers like Toyota, Pepsi and Bud Light an average of $5 million per 30-second commercial spot, according to industry bible Adweek. If the telecast doesn't deliver the goods, will NBC have to cough up "make-goods," or free ads, to make up for audience shortfalls?

Given the enormous demand on the High Holy Day of advertising, Adgate doubts NBC is offering audience guarantees to marketers buying time in Super Bowl 52, but if Pats-Eagles does somehow tank in the ratings, he expects NBC will do the right thing and make it up to advertisers.

"If you’re out there spending over $5 million for a 30-second ad, they are going to take care of you. Generally, they don't have a guarantee. But if there’s a significant fall-off, or an advertiser is not happy, they have enough sports inventory in February to make up for any underdelivery," he said. "Because of the Olympics, it would not be that catastrophic. Having the Olympics as a make-good for the Super Bowl is not a terrible scenario for an advertiser."

And having Brady deliver in the clutch, as he did last week, isn't a terrible scenario, either.

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