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NFL Fever Fuels TV Ratings Boom

If the NFL competition committee considers lengthening the NFL season, here's a reason to do so: NFL TV ratings this season keep soaring.

Any league expanding its season - or increasing its "inventory," in industry jargon - has to wonder if it's watering down consumer, and thus advertiser, demand. But with NFL TV ratings this season up across the board, consumers only seem to want more. After ESPN's Oct. 5 Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game became the highest-rated TV cable show ever, ESPN's New England Patriots-New Orleans Saints game Monday seems poised to break that record: Monday's game drew a 14.4 overnight rating - translating to 14.4% of households in 56 urban TV markets - compared to a 14.2 overnight for the Oct. 5 game.

No one should base long-term assumptions about ratings on a single season. This season, the NFL is likely benefiting from slumps in network ratings, which might not continue. And the league has been lucky. It can't count on a mediagenic 40-year-old, such as Brett Favre, popping up as a TV star very often.

But its big ratings have come even without teams in big markets - New York, Chicago, Washington - having banner years. Keep watching, Nielsen households, and the NFL could end up with really long seasons.

On tap: The basis of the Olympics - getting people to watch sports they otherwise wouldn't - requires that the brand seem almost ethereal.

So this seems tacky: The logo of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, prominently includes its website address. Hey, how about an 800 number, too? . . . ESPN's uber-hype for its 2010 soccer World Cup kicks off ESPN2's three-hour coverage - up from 70 minutes in '06 - of the draw Friday. Interviews include (inevitably) David Beckham and actor Morgan Freeman, who plays Nelson Mandela in the film Invictus, opening Dec. 11. It can't hurt: 2006 coverage drew 0.3% of U.S. cable TV households.

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