Viewers flock to tune into Patriots games as New England chases history Print
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Thursday, 06 December 2007 14:46
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 NEW YORK (AP) -The largest cable audience in history. The highest rating for a regular-season Sunday afternoon game in more than a decade.
Seems every time the undefeated New England Patriots pull out a tight win, viewers tune in at a record pace.
``At this point, with the body of work they've put up, now people watch and say, 'I don't want to miss it when they lose,''' said ``Monday Night Football'' announcer Mike Tirico.
Good teams will always attract a lot of attention, but rarely to this extent. Most don't burst with as many dramatic elements as the Patriots do, say TV executives and commentators.
The sparkle of Hollywood in the supermodel-dating quarterback. The intrigue of a spying scandal. The classic villain in the polarizing, mysterious coach.
And the specter of history.
Jim Nantz, the CBS announcer for the NFL (and golf), calls it ``the Tiger Woods factor.''
``People understand they may be watching something they'll never see again in their lifetimes,'' Nantz said.
That lures even casual fans.
Nantz will be in the booth when another highly anticipated matchup kicks off Sunday: the Patriots face the Pittsburgh Steelers, the tradition-rich franchise with big stars, recent Super Bowl rings and a 9-3 record.
``This will be another monster rating,'' Nantz predicted, hardly going out on a limb.
Before New England's two meetings with undefeated teams earlier this season - the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts - fans knew there was a chance the Patriots might lose. Both games earned huge ratings for CBS.
The last two weeks, New England was a heavy favorite against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens. As each contest rolled on and the underdog put New England on the brink of defeat, viewership soared.
Fans hear the score and think, ``Maybe this is the night,'' said Fred Gaudelli, the producer for NBC's ``Sunday Night Football.'' The network attracted strong ratings off the Eagles game.
At the start of Monday night's Patriots-Ravens matchup, ESPN received an 8.0 rating, its highest this season for an 8:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff. Between 10:15 and 10:30, the rating was a 12.1. From 11:30-11:45, it peaked at a 17.6. The game ended at 11:49.
``It's not every week you have a jump like that,'' said John Wildhack, ESPN's executive vice president for programming.
On most Monday nights this season, the ratings peaked between 9:30 and 10.
``Obviously everyone in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island areas are hoping they go undefeated,'' Gaudelli said.
As for everybody else?
``Like any great team, there's no more satisfaction for a sports fan than to see Goliath go down.''
Just two years ago, the Colts opened the season 13-0, but their run at history didn't generate the same amount of buzz. They weren't embroiled in a spying scandal, for one thing. Nor are they from a large market. The Patriots are, and more home fans mean bigger ratings.
New England's allure also stems from the fact the franchise has been lodged in the nation's football consciousness since the offseason, Tirico said. Already the closest thing to a dynasty in the salary cap era, the Patriots made a splash on draft day, trading for mercurial receiver Randy Moss.
Fans were speculating about how good this team could be before it ever played a game. Between the spying scandal and a string of dominant early-season wins, New England remained the center of attention throughout September and October.
``The idea that they had a chance to deliver a perfect season was put into the arena quicker than any team I can ever recall,'' Nantz said.
He expects record ratings if the Patriots are still unbeaten heading into the Super Bowl. As long as New England remains perfect, fans know they're witnessing history every time they tune in - win or lose.
``You want to be there when it happens,'' Gaudelli said. ``That's why the ratings are going through the roof.''
 

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