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Kaufman: No end in sight to NFL growth

Published:   |   Updated: September 15, 2013 at 08:53 AM

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TAMPA — Sometime in the mid-1960s, a sports revolution took place that installed a new king.

While the Beatles were conquering America, pro football sacked baseball as the nation’s No. 1 sport and the ensuing stranglehold has been quite astonishing to witness.

“It’s unbelievable to see what an enterprise the NFL has become,’’ said former Bucs safety John Lynch, who is working the first three Tampa Bay games this season as a Fox analyst. “Networks can’t get enough of it and it’s the only thing people will watch live anymore. People DVR everything except this, because they want to see the NFL in real time.’’

A record total of 108.4 million fans watched pro football on CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC in Week 1, when the Bucs-Jets game drew a 20.5 rating in the Bay area, making it the most-watched program for the week in our local market.

Today’s Bucs-Saints matchup should generate another impressive ratings number among Tampa Bay viewers as a local blackout was lifted for the home opener.

Fueled in part by the popularity of fantasy football, interest in the NFL continues to rise. New websites sprout each year, dedicated to NFL discussion, and pregame shows stretch longer and longer, with former players and coaches talking over each other to make their one point before commercial break.

Instead of referencing a Hall of Fame coach, the name “Madden’’ now refers to a video game that flies off the shelves.

“I don’t know if we ever foresaw this,’’ Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “What people love is that every game, every week, no matter who’s playing, anything can happen. So many games come down to that last possession.’’

The parity in the league is undeniable.

For each of the past 10 seasons, an NFL club has vaulted from last place to atop its division. No Super Bowl champion has repeated since the 2004 Patriots and few teams stay at the bottom for long.

“I love it and I get it,’’ Lynch said. “There’s so many great things about the game and the popularity of the NFL is just insane.’’

In 2011, nine of the 10 highest-rated TV broadcasts were NFL programs. And eight of those broadcasts topped the ratings for the Academy Awards.

“People love the game,’’ Brees said. “It obviously brings a lot of entertainment, a lot of excitement. There’s some personalities in the league, too. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing what it’s turned into.’’

But with so many national games and venues for NFL talk bombarding the airwaves and the Internet, perhaps there’s a danger of over saturation. Could too much of a good thing turn the next generation toward bowling?

“I’ve always wondered about reaching the saturation point,’’ Lynch said. “But it doesn’t seem to be going that way as of yet. I don’t think these owners are going to worry about that. Growing the pie is their mantra and $10 billion is just a start. I think (commissioner) Roger Goodell has goals of generating over $25 billion.

“I remember when the Glazers bought the Bucs for $192 million in 1995. People thought they were nuts. Pretty good investment on their part, I’d say.’’

ikaufman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7833

Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO

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