- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

ABC defied Super Bowl history and Tampa Bay's blowout victory Sunday night to post a 1 percent ratings boost for Super Bowl XXXVII.
The 40.7 rating, translating to an audience of more than 137.6 million, was the second-largest for a Super Bowl and the best since the NFL signed a record-setting, $18 billion set of network TV contracts in 1998. Only Super Bowl XXX in 1996 posted a larger total audience with 138.5 million.
A strong rating was expected leading into the Buccaneers-Oakland Raiders clash. Those expectations quickly melted when Tampa Bay raced to a 34-3 lead en route to a 48-21 victory. But a strong outing from ABC announcers John Madden and Al Michaels and the inherent appeal of the matchup prevented significant viewership drops in the second half.
Previous Super Bowl blowouts, including Baltimore's throttling of the New York Giants two years ago, traditionally have been marked by lower viewer turnout. The game, however, is still the most-watched TV program each year.
"This was a real natural kind of Super Bowl," said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now an industry consultant. "You had both sides of the country represented, plenty of great stories, not the least of which was Jon Gruden [moving from Oakland last season to Tampa Bay as coach]. The weather wasn't good in much of the country, which always helps ratings. Oakland tried to make a game of it for a while in the second half. You still had a lot of factors go right."
Each ratings point translates to 1 percent of the U.S. television audience and represents 1.07 million households. The game also registered a 61 share, which measures the percentage of American televisions in use tuned to a particular program.
The ratings growth over last year caps a highly successful year for the NFL's television efforts. Total regular-season ratings rose 5 percent and earlier playoff rounds also improved strongly over recent years, further distancing the NFL from nearly every form of programming on TV.
Before Sunday, Michaels predicted a close game, in part because of his belief "in the law of averages" following a "Monday Night Football" regular-season schedule in which 14 of 17 games were decided by 10 or more points. When the blowout became obvious, Michaels and Madden took the events in good humor. At one point, the two announcers debated a third-quarter official's ruling that nullified an Oakland touchdown. Michaels argued for the score to stand, saying, "Anything to hold an audience at this point."

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