:rocker: NFL Broadcast Ratings Rise as Patriots' Perfect Year Lures Fans:rocker: By Aaron Kuriloff and Erik Matuszewski Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The New England Patriots' quest for an undefeated season is as big a bonanza for the National Football League as for the team's fans. While building a 14-0 record, the Patriots have attracted the largest audience in cable television history and the most viewers ever for a Sunday night NFL game. The team also generated the biggest TV audience for a Sunday afternoon game in at least two decades for the most-watched U.S. sports league. Sales of team merchandise are up, too. ``They are just a steam engine going down the tracks,'' said CBS Sports President Sean McManus, whose network is televising this weekend's New England game against the 1-13 Miami Dolphins in Foxborough, Massachusetts. ``The Patriots have been a great story for us. They're the driving force behind our ratings.'' New England is moving toward becoming the second team in the 88-year history of the league to win all of its games. The 1972 Dolphins were the first, taking three postseason games after going 14-0 during the regular season. New England's Nov. 5 game on CBS against the then-unbeaten Indianapolis Colts was the highest-rated Sunday afternoon NFL contest since 1987. CBS Corp., General Electric Co.'s NBC, Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and the NFL Network are the league's broadcast partners. Biggest Audience for Cable The team's Dec. 3 game against the Baltimore Ravens on ESPN was seen in 12.5 million homes, the biggest audience in cable television history, the network said. Three Patriots games are the highest-rated shows on television this season, the league said. The Patriots' 31-28 win over Philadelphia on Nov. 25 earned NBC its highest rating for a Sunday night game, eclipsing the network's largest previous audience by 44 percent. The NFL's television ratings reflect its overall health, said Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall University Sports Poll, which tracks public attitudes toward the business of sports. The league generates an average of $3.7 billion annually in television revenue. Gentile said the Patriots' allure comes from dominating a league known for parity, led by a ``golden boy quarterback out front, in Tom Brady, and Dr. Evil, coach Bill Belichick, behind the scenes.'' Selling Commercials New England's appeal has helped networks sell commercials. The asking price for a 30-second ad on CBS during the Patriots- Colts game was more than $700,000, said Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, a New York-based advertising firm. The most expensive 30-second spot for a drama series was $419,000 during ``Grey's Anatomy,'' according to the New York Times. CBS spokesman Jerry Caraccioli said the company doesn't comment on ad rates. The NFL Network is selling ads for the Patriots' Dec. 29 season-finale against the New York Giants for more than $200,000 -- more than double the $85,000 it has received for ads during other games this season, MediaWeek reported. NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky confirmed the figure. ``It's hard to overestimate the value of NFL programming, especially when you're having the kind of season that we're having with the Patriots,'' CBS's McManus said in a telephone interview this week. ``That obviously translates into significant revenue.'' Merchandise Sales The league also benefits from the increased attention, and from higher merchandise sales, which are shared among all 32 teams, said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. The Patriots also may see a rise in advertising or sponsorships. ``There's increased interest throughout the country,'' McCarthy said. ``The scriptwriters on strike couldn't have come up with a better storyline.'' Sales of Patriots' gear have increased while overall sales of NFL-licensed apparel are down slightly, said Matt Powell, senior retail analyst for SportsOneSource Group, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based marketing firm that tracks sporting goods sales. Sales of Patriots jerseys and other items last month were up about 60 percent compared with November 2006. Sales of Patriots gear at NFLShop.com are up 120 percent for the year, the league said. The No. 1 selling team item is a hooded sweatshirt like the one Belichick wears on the sideline each week. Las Vegas sports books are one of the few places that haven't benefited from the Patriots' dominance. New England has outscored opponents by an average of 20.8 points and its offense -- 34 points shy of setting an NFL record for points scored in a season -- has been a big draw for bettors while making it difficult for oddsmakers to accurately predict the outcome of their games. Public Winning ``Let's just say the public has done very well backing the Patriots,'' said Chuck Esposito, assistant vice president of Caesar's Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas. The Patriots' popularity encouraged CBS to choose Gillette Stadium in Foxborough as the location of its first restaurant. The 15,000-square-foot ``CBS Scene,'' a joint venture with the team, will open next season. ``It's not a business we've been in before,'' McManus said. ``But we thought it was a no-brainer to further associate ourselves with NFL football and the Patriots.'' To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Kuriloff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org ; Erik Matuszewski in New York at email@example.com Last Updated: December 21, 2007 00:20 EST Email this article Printer friendly format Advertisement: Get Six Free Trial Issues of The Economist !