By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - A Super Bowl blowout will not help the National Football League but it will not hurt either as industry experts say the American sporting juggernaut will roll on regardless of the championship game's result.
After a regular season and slew of yawn-worthy playoff games that drew lower TV ratings and exposed some cracks in the NFL's armor, the league would like nothing more than to have the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons serve up a Super Bowl thriller on Feb. 5 in Houston.
Despite concussions, a billion-dollar lawsuit, domestic abuse controversies and all manner of scandals from deflated footballs to 'pay for pain' schemes, it seemed for years that nothing could dent the NFL's bulletproof popularity.
But alarm bells have been ringing at NFL headquarters as average TV audience figures dropped 8 percent during the regular season. A postseason ravaged by routs offered no relief.
Whatever the league's issues, however, none of them will impact the Super Bowl.
"Let's not lose sight – the NFL is a hugely prosperous property," former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, now owner of a sports media consulting company, told Reuters.
"They are way above any other traditional sports event in terms of ratings and the ability to reach a huge cross section of the American public.
"No one is going to be holding benefits for the NFL anytime soon."
Indeed, advertising money is in the bank with FOX, who will broadcast the game in the United States, getting a reported $5 million for 30 seconds of commercial time.
Houston is ready to welcome a well-heeled crowd of A-listers, Hollywood celebrities, titans of industry and politicos for a week of parties and lavish sponsored events.
The fun will reach a climax on Sunday when the Falcons and Patriots clash in a Super Bowl that will see nearly as many tune in to watch the commercials and halftime show featuring Lady Gaga as the game itself.
"It has sort of become kind of a national holiday," Rick Burton, professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University, told Reuters. "The Super Bowl isn't going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back if it's another blowout."
Even with its ratings wobble industry experts expect the Super Bowl, as usual, to produce a whopping number. The only question is whether it will surpass the record high set in 2015 when New England beat Seattle.
"The Super Bowl is going to get the highest rating by far of any entertainment or sports event in the United States regardless of the matchup," Dennis Deninger, who teaches a class at Syracuse University called The Super Bowl in Society, told Reuters. "The Super Bowl is one of those events that is an all consuming.
"I don't think it will have any shortage of viewers. The question is will reach the all-time record, Super Bowl 49 that 114.5 million viewers per minute.
"I don't think there is any reason for anyone at NFL headquarters to be quaking in their boots."
(Additional reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)