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New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings battle scores huge TV ratings

Posted on Jan 25, 2010 in Local Issues, Sports

By Dave Walker, The Times-Picayune January 25, 2010, 6:39PM saints-super-bowl-sign.JPGMichael DeMocker / The Times-PicayuneWith an average national audience of 57.9 million, Sunday's game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings was the most-watched NFC Championship game in nearly three decades. The New Orleans Saints' overtime playoff victory over the Minnesota Vikings was the most-watched non-Super Bowl TV broadcast since the May 1998 "Seinfeld" finale. And it had a better ending. With an average national audience of 57.9 million -- 40 percent larger than last year's NFC Championship Game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals -- Sunday's game was also the most-watched NFC Championship game in nearly three decades. The January 1982 conference title playoff between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers -- broadcast by CBS and won by Dwight Clark's leaping, last-minute reception know as "The Catch" -- attracted 68.7 million viewers nationally. The "Seinfeld" finale drew 76.3 million. In New Orleans, the Saints-Vikings game had a 63.2 average rating, the largest local rating ever for an NFL postseason game, according to a Fox network news release. The local Saints-Vikings rating eclipsed the previous high for an NFC playoff game in an individual city, a 59.5 in Milwaukee for the 1997 NFC Championship Game. A local rating point represents 1 percent of total TV homes, or about 6,340 households in New Orleans. "The people here completely love this team," said Joe Cook, general manager of local Fox affiliate WVUE-Channel 8, purchased in 2008 by Saints owner Tom Benson. "You can't compare it to any other situation. "The people here are not only Saints fans -- they needed this victory, (which was) well-deserved." WVUE's audience for the championship game was higher than any home-market Super Bowl rating ever recorded. The previous record, a 63.0 rating, belonged to a Chicago station for the Super Bowl XX broadcast. The Saints' local TV appeal has been one of the many threads winding through the magical story of this season. Two "Monday Night Football" broadcasts -- carried locally by WDSU-Channel 6 and ESPN -- had combined ratings of 63.9 and 66.7. The second "Monday Night Football" game, the Nov. 30 Saints victory over the New England Patriots, is the second largest national cablecast ever, topped only by ESPN's Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game Oct. 5. For most of the regular season, local Fox affiliate WVUE flirted with the all-time local record for a single-station game broadcast. The Saints games this season have routinely outrated recent past Super Bowls -- in New Orleans, the 2009 Super Bowl drew a comparatively paltry 45.7 rating -- which are generally the most-watched TV event of each year. Ratings-gatherer Nielsen doesn't measure out-of-home viewership in local markets, so a substantial number of New Orleans viewers -- who watched in barrooms, dorm rooms and emergency-room waiting rooms -- weren't counted in Sunday's record numbers. Sunday's game had an 82 local share, the percentage of viewership among homes with a set in use. "We spent all (Monday) morning trying to think where the other 18 percent of people were," said Joann Habisreitinger, media director for local advertising agency Zehnder Communications. "Of course, they were in the bars, contributing to viewing anyway." "I can't believe that we didn't have another 10 rating points at least," Cook said. In Minneapolis, numbers for the game were a 58.7 rating/80 share. The third-highest rated city was Milwaukee, with 47.4/64. In New Orleans, the audience peaked during the 9:15 p.m. quarter-hour at 67.4/86. "I can't imagine anything being that high anywhere ever in the history of (local) TV viewing," Habisreitinger said. "I can only imagine what the Super Bowl is going to do." TV columnist Dave Walker can be reached at dwalker@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3429. Comment and read more at nola.com/tv

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