Super Bowl Stands to Goose Football's Slightly Deflated Ratings

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NFL games still draw massive tune-in, but numbers softened like Tom Brady's balls this season as Sunday's big game seeks to reverse a subtle slide.

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell may be nervous about more than just the air pressure of the game balls during the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 on NBC. Football ratings were down slightly this season for the major franchises — with the notable exception of Thursday Night Football, which NFL Network simulcast on CBS for the first time.

Still, NBC execs have high hopes for the game, since it pulled a record 112.2 million viewers and generated $331.8 million in ad revenue last year. The latter figure is already locked to increase for 2015, but viewership remains a variable. And NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus suggests Super Bowl ratings, however record-breaking, still underestimate the reach of the game.

"I believe that the number is underreported somewhat substantially.  And there are a lot more people watching the Super Bowl in group gatherings, whether it’s at universities, clubs other places," Lazarus told reporters on a conference call before the game. "Would that get us all the way to a 50 [household rating]? It might. But we’re not going to get credit for that."

So will the Patriots' deflated balls scandal help or hurt tune-in? One thing is for sure: There's no shortage of awareness. "I think more people are talking about it now for unfortunate reasons," added Lazarus. "And we’d much rather be talking [the game] than the inflation and PSI of a football."