More People Watching NFL This Season
Fri Nov 8, 2:37 AM ET By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Now perhaps more than ever, there is a sense that any team can win any game in the NFL.
That gives fans — and bettors — hope week after week, and gets them to tune in.
The league's games are drawing an average of 14.1 million people per telecast, 9 percent higher than in 2001 and 2 percent higher than two years ago.
"The final chapter hasn't been written, and we're not celebrating yet," Fox Sports president Ed Goren said Thursday. "Still, it's been a great nine weeks so far."
ABC, Fox, CBS and ESPN all have increases in viewership, which eventually should translate into more advertising dollars.
The jump for the NFL comes in a year that major league baseball had its lowest-rated World Series, following regular-season numbers even with last year's.
Football ratings were down last year because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, TV sports consultant Neal Pilson said.
Still, as CBS Sports president Sean McManus put it: "Any time ratings are up, it's a victory."
Ranked by total viewers, four of the season's top 13 TV shows are NFL games.
"Going into the season, I thought there was more anticipation in a lot of the NFL markets than there was a season ago," Goren said.
Nielsen Media Research only measures what people watch, not why, so it's tough to know the causes of ups and downs.
But John Madden, the announcer whose move from Fox to "Monday Night Football" gets some credit for ABC's ratings rise, offers a simple take: unpredictable outcomes on the field.
'"NFL' sometimes stands for 'Never Figure League,'" Madden said. "What you think will happen doesn't."
The St. Louis Rams, many pundits' pick to win the Super Bowl, started 0-5, then won three straight games. The Oakland Raiders started 4-0, then lost four in a row.
_ The 43.9 points per game are the most since 1967.
_ More games have been decided by a touchdown or less than last season, and the 13 overtimes so far match the total for the entire 2000 season.
_ The Houston Texans joined the league, putting a team in the country's 11th-largest TV market.
_ It's become a pattern that teams come from nowhere to reach the Super Bowl; the last three champions were a combined 17-31 the season before they won.
'"Parity' is a word that's been misunderstood and misinterpreted," said Al Michaels, Madden's partner on "Monday Night Football," which airs for the 500th time next week. "People think it means everyone is 8-8. What 'parity' really has become, because of free agency and some other things, is that you can finish 4-12 one year and 12-4 the next year."
Because NFL teams play 16 games in the regular season — baseball teams play 162; NBA and NHL teams 82 — each game is more of an event.
That's why the networks were willing to pay a total of $17.6 billion for NFL rights from 1998-05. Fox and CBS get regular-season games primarily on Sunday afternoons, ESPN has Sunday night games, and ABC has "Monday Night Football."
They have had varying increases, when compared to last season through Week 9: ABC's ratings went from 11.2 to 11.5 (2.7 percent); Fox's went from 9.7 to 10.2 (5.2 percent); CBS's went from 8.9 to 9.3 (4.5 percent); and ESPN's from 5.8 to 7.3 (25.9 percent).
Ratings are the percentage of all homes with televisions, whether or not they are in use. For ABC, Fox and CBS, each rating point represents a little more than 1.06 million TV homes. For ESPN, each point translates to 870,000.
More good news for the league and networks: Ratings among men aged 18-34 are up 19 percent from 2001, 8 percent from 2000.
"The ratings reflect great interest across America in exciting, unpredictable football with lots of talent — both veterans and newcomers — in every game," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.