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This story first appeared in the May 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
No media entity on the planet has focused more attention on Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension than the league’s own NFL Network, and — while a bit counterintuitive given the negative publicity — possibly no outlet has benefited more from the scandal.
At 5:40 p.m. May 11, the NFL suspended the New England Patriots quarterback for his alleged role in deflating footballs before the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts — and NFL Network broke into regular programming with the news. For the next two days, it was all Brady, all the time, with analysts and former teammates weighing in. The channel further capitalized on the scandal by replaying the Jan. 18 championship game and a shortened version of the Patriots’ subsequent victory in Super Bowl XLIX — stripped of timeouts, huddles and the like — followed by a Sound FX version of the game, whereby viewers could hear bits of Brady’s sideline conversations with other players.
Jon Stewart Mocks Deflategate Suspension: Tom Brady Is “Muscle Jesus” Who “Wins Again” (Video)
The wall-to-wall Brady gambit paid off: During the first couple of days after the suspension, NFL Network saw a 37 percent spike in U.S. household ratings compared with the same days a year earlier.
NFL Network remains relatively small but wields outsize importance, with affiliate revenue of $1.31 a subscriber each month, according to SNL Kagan. Only ESPN, TNT and Disney Channel command higher fees. The cable net reaches more than 73 million U.S. homes and garnered $1.3 billion in operating revenue in 2014.
The Brady coverage was beginning to subside when the quarterback appealed his suspension May 14, helping NFL Network kick into high gear again. If the punishment holds, look for his first game back to be a ratings bonanza — not only for NBC, which will benefit from the Oct. 18 Sunday night contest (coincidentally?) pitting the Patriots against, you guessed it, the Colts, but also for NFL Network. Get ready for some hefty postgame analysis.
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