By BOB LABRIOLA
What the television networks think of the Pittsburgh Steelers is evident by looking at the team's 2008 schedule. Not the scores, but the kickoff times. And now, it's apparent that millions of television viewers agree.
Super Bowl XLIII is now the most viewed television program in U.S. history with a total audience of 151.6 million viewers, according to official national ratings data released by Nielsen Media Research.
"It's always incredibly satisfying to amass large audiences, but this television record simply reaffirms the power of the Super Bowl and the National Football League," said Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. "Everyone associated with the NFL should feel a great sense of pride in this accomplishment and in providing a day of enjoyment to American families – especially those who are struggling in these difficult times."
Indeed, the Super Bowl and the NFL deserve to take a bow, but it was the Steelers who delivered the big numbers for the networks all season.
When the NFL announced the dates and times of its 2008 schedule, the Steelers were slotted for five primetime appearances, with six other games at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday, which reaches a much broader audience and is valued by the networks because it leads into their primetime broadcast that night. By the time the season ended, the Steelers had one of their 1 p.m. Sunday kickoffs moved to 4:15 p.m.
That made for 12 of their 16 games being in the most high-profile time slots the networks have for NFL regular season games.
And the Steelers delivered.
The Oct. 26 game against the Giants, 4:15 p.m. on FOX, was the most-watched program on television that week. It finished ahead of Dancing With The Stars and CSI and Desperate Housewives, to say nothing of crushing Game 6 of the World Series. The next week, the Monday Night Football contest between the Steelers and Redskins gave ESPN cable's second-most watched program of the year. The Nov. 3 game scored a 10.2 rating and attracted 14.2 million viewers.
Then Steelers-Cowboys on Dec. 7 topped them all. Part of a doubleheader on FOX that drew 25.7 million viewers, Steelers-Cowboys was the most-watched show to that point of the entire television season. The game blew away its closest competitor for the week, The Mentalist, which drew 18.7 million viewers for CBS during primetime on Tuesday.
The Steelers also were part of the second-most watched program of the television season when the CBS doubleheader featuring the Steelers-Patriots and Jets-Broncos on Nov. 30 drew 25.5 million viewers.
But as the numbers show, Ebersol's point about the Super Bowl dwarfing all other television programming is a valid one. The most viewed television programs in history, in terms of total viewers, were: the Steelers thrilling win over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, and the New York Giants' upset of undefeated New England in Super Bowl XLII.
In terms of average viewers, the Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl also finished No. 1 with 98.7 million, which was 1.2 million viewers more than Giants-Patriots last February. And as further proof of the Steelers' television appeal, Super Bowl XXX – Pittsburgh-Dallas to cap the 1995 NFL season – still is No. 3 with 94.1 million average viewers.
And the Steelers appeal is international. Steelers-Cowboys on Dec. 7 was also the only on-site broadcast this season by Fox Sports Latin America. That game was broadcast to 16 Latin American countries.