- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

In the NFL, there are few real losers.

Sure, there are the Miami Dolphins, the Oakland Raiders and Michael Vick. And it’s probably safe to call Brian Billick a loser after being canned by the Ravens on Monday.

But for the most part, anyone associated with the NFL can be placed into categories marked “Winners” and “Not Quite Winners.” This is especially true for anyone with a business relationship with the NFL, which is about as popular as Santa Claus at the North Pole.

Let’s take a look at the top business battles of the regular season with winners and … not quite winners.

Television ratings: Final viewership figures for the regular season aren’t yet available, but CBS gets the edge here over the other four networks that televised games this year. CBS can thank the Patriots for this honor; the top four programs of any kind on television this season all involved New England’s football team. CBS had exclusive rights to three of those top games, and it also won the ratings battle over NBC and the NFL Network when the NFL decided to simulcast the Patriots-Giants game on three networks last weekend in the most-watched game since 1995.

Fox saw great ratings from games involving the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and other NFC teams but missed out on a ratings bonanza when the NFL kept the Nov. 29 Packers-Cowboys game on the NFL Network. And while CBS and NBC got to simulcast the Patriots-Giants game, the NFL never even offered Fox the opportunity.

ESPN set a record for the most-watched program in the history of cable with the Dec. 3 Patriots-Ravens game and garnered record hits to its Web site. But the cable giant also was plagued by some truly uncompelling games, such as the Steelers’ 3-0 win over the Dolphins on Nov. 26.

NFL vs. the cable networks: The cable companies deserve a slight edge here because the NFL Network flinched in deciding to simulcast the Patriots’ attempt at a 16-0 season. And throughout this dispute, the cable companies have somehow managed to win a decent amount of support from the public. But it’s not like the NFL has come off badly. By allowing other networks to show the Patriots game, the league scored points with fans who otherwise would have missed out on seeing it. And it got some great exposure for its network in the process.

Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady: Clearly, Brady wins out here, given the Patriots victory over the Colts on Nov. 4. And he still has a 3-1 edge in Super Bowls. But Manning still has a big edge in the endorsement department, appearing in so many commercials that it has become just plain funny. (And his performance on “Saturday Night Live” was even better.) Of course, this battle isn’t over; the Colts and Patriots will face each other in the AFC Championship game if things stay true to form.

Retired players vs. NFL Players Association: It’s tough to call anyone a true “winner” in this dispute. But the NFLPA was coming off like a definite loser earlier in the year, when union head Gene Upshaw appeared uncaring toward the needs of injured retired stars. But fans heard less and less from retirees as the season went on as the league promised to remedy things. Moreover, NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, a lead spokesman for injured retirees, ended up having to try to defend himself after it was revealed his charitable trust fund distributed just a fraction of the money it raised.

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