NBC on Track for a Record NFL Kickoff Turnout

Pats-Steelers Dustup Draws 25 Million Viewers

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After yet another offseason characterized by scandal, perfidy and a general malaise, the selective amnesia necessary to maintain a rooting interest in the National Football League kicked in with a vengeance Thursday night, as a huge national TV audience tuned in to the season's first official contest.

According to Nielsen fast national data, NBC's broadcast of the Steelers-Patriots air show delivered 25.1 million viewers and a 9.6 rating among adults 18-to-49, marking a 7% improvement over last year's NFL Kickoff Game (23.4 million/9.0 in the fast national numbers). Meanwhile, the metered-market data suggests that last night's broadcast will be adjusted sharply upwards when the final numbers come in; NBC scored a 17.7 overnight household rating, tying the 2010 Vikings-Saints table-setter for the all-time biggest turnout for a Kickoff.

Deliveries for the year-ago Green Bay-Seattle battle were also adjusted up, to 26.9 million viewers and a 10.9 in the 18-to-49-year-old demo. As such, expect the Steelers-Pats finals to jump to as many as 29 million viewers and an 11.0 rating among 18-to-49-year-olds.

As one might expect, the top local markets for NBC's Kickoff broadcast were Boston, which notched a 39.5 household rating/62 share, and Pittsburgh 34.5/51. In other words, 62% of all TVs in the Boston DMA that were in use last night were tuned in to NBC, while the same applied for 51% of Steel City TV homes.

While the Steelers offense did its best to keep things interesting, the Super Bowl champions Pats were not to be denied. But at times the game almost seemed beyond the point. After nearly losing four-time Super Bowl victor Tom Brady to the inanities of Deflategate, New England appeared to transform into some sort of WWE villain, allegedly interfering with the Steelers' coaching staff's headsets before the defense engaged in some real bush-league disruption of Pittsburgh's cadence.

Whether the Pats cheated or not will be a matter for the league to decide -- Pittsburgh will file a formal complaint about the headset issue, which Coach Mike Tomlin said is a recurring issue at Gillette Stadium -- but Belichickian hijinks aside, perhaps the biggest grievances were inflicted upon a pair of national brands. NBC's Al Michaels in the first half slipped up during a shot of Coach Belichick interfacing with a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet, referring to it as an "iPad," which was particularly unfortunate, as Microsoft plunked down $400 million for the privilege of serving as the official tablet of the NFL.

Later in the game, Dunkin' Donuts missed out on an opportunity for a whole bunch of free media exposure when Cris Collinsworth related the story of the Maine franchise that offered the judge in the Deflategate case free coffee for life. Rather than namedrop Dunkies, Mr. Collinsworth simply tossed out the generic "coffee shop."

Among the most visible brands in and around last night's game were Verizon, which ponied up for five 30-second in-game spots, the ubiquitous DraftKings.com and FanDuel (five and four :30s, respectively) and Samsung Mobile (four). Toyota, Chevrolet and Kia were the night's high-profile auto brands, and the studio du jour was Universal Pictures, which aired promos for "Everest" and its "Furious 7" DVD.

The road to Super Bowl 50 continues to unwind this Sunday, when CBS hosts the 4:20 p.m. late national game (Ravens-Broncos) and NBC lines up the first official "Sunday Night Football" broadcast (Giants-Cowboys). On Sept. 14, ESPN gets in on the action with a "Monday Night Football" NFC doubleheader (Eagles-Falcons, Vikings-49ers).