NFL is too big to fail: Ratings soar despite off-the-field nightmares

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on how the NFL is made of Teflon.

From the column:


Back in September, I did a column in this space wondering about the fallout for the NFL in the wake of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases. I thought it could cause the NFL to lose its grip on the public.

I wrote:

“The events of last week revealed the NFL isn’t Teflon. The league needs to get its ship in order quickly. It definitely can’t afford any more bad news.”

Since then, what’s happened? More bad news. “Deflatgate” had the NFL leading the network news telecasts again. It’s not a good thing when one of the league’s iconic players and a future Hall of Fame coach are having their integrity questioned.

The other big story leading up to the Super Bowl focused on a star player, Marshawn Lynch, not talking to the media. Not exactly feel-good stuff.

Finally, did you hear all those boos for Roger Goodell when he took the stage for Sunday night’s trophy presentation? There is little question that the NFL commissioner now is one of the most despised people in sports.

You have to wonder who is advising him on the PR front? The man who insists Lynch has to talk to the media turned down an interview request from NBC Sunday, and the network only is paying billions in rights fees to the NFL. Seems a bit hypocritical, right?

Yes, it couldn’t have been worse for the NFL off the field this year. And what was the end result?

The NFL scored some of its best ratings ever.

The Super Bowl was watched by 114.4 million people, now the new record for the most viewed TV program of all time. According to Sports Media Watch, the 49.7 overnight rating tied the record for the highest overnight rating for a sport event since the Tonya-Nancy saga in the 1994 Olympics. That’s 21 years ago in an era with significantly less channel options, and no real Internet.

It wasn’t just the Super Bowl. The NFL playoffs were at their highest levels since the ‘90s, as were several regular-season games.

And what about the backlash from women who supposedly would be upset with the way the NFL handled the Rice situation? In November, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Daily reported women ratings for the NFL were up 5 percent in 2014. It is safe to assume the increase might be even higher given the big numbers for the NFL’s postseason.

Indeed, despite all the NFL’s self-inflicted wounds, the league actually got more popular this year. It turns out the golden goose has a Teflon shield.


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