By Anthony Crupi

A rough weekend for three of the NFL’s most celebrated old-school quarterbacks may have long-term implications for the league’s TV partners, as the loss of Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Eli Manning could cause a shakeup in the Nielsen ratings. No team poses more of a risk than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

By virtue of the Steelers’ outsized contribution to the weekly NFL deliveries, Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury is likely to have the most meaningful impact on Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN. Late in the second quarter in Pittsburgh’s home opener against Seattle, the 37-year-old quarterback shook out his arm in distress after firing what appeared to be a routine incomplete pass. The sight of Roethlisberger clutching his right elbow like Rodney Dangerfield trying to finesse his way out of a golf bet was the stuff of nightmares for Steelers fans and the networks that cash in on the team’s popularity.

Pittsburgh has six national TV windows remaining on its schedule, and it will have to suit up for each of them with the largely untested backup Mason Rudolph under center. A third-round draft pick in 2018, Rudolph looked effective against the Seahawks—he connected on 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception—but unless he starts lighting up the scoreboard like Big Ben in his prime, the Steelers are not going to be a reliable ratings draw.

The amount of gross ratings points in play is not insignificant. Last season, Pittsburgh was the NFL’s fifth most-watched franchise, averaging 19.2 million viewers and an 11.2 household rating. That matched their 2017 ranking but marked a bit of a decline compared to the 2016 season, when they trailed only Dallas as the league’s top TV attraction.

In terms of sheer exposure, Fox and ESPN are most at risk of suffering a Steelers hangover. For Fox, the magnitude of Roethlisberger’s injury will be fully known in November, when the broadcaster will carry two Pittsburgh games in the space of six days. On Sunday, Nov. 10, the Steelers host the Los Angeles Rams in Fox’s national afternoon window before traveling to Cleveland on the 15th to face AFC North rivals the Browns on “Thursday Night Football.”

Then again, the ratings impact might not be as bad as you might expect, at least for some networks. Whatever diminishing returns Fox sees during that one week in November will be more than offset by the huge numbers it expects to serve up with the bulk of its NFL schedule. If the Oct. 6 battle between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers wasn’t promising enough, there’s always the hotly anticipated Dallas-New England game on Nov. 24. Buyers have indicated that this rare meeting between America’s Team and the six-time Super Bowl champs is the priciest regular-season game on the calendar, one that is almost certain to scare up the year’s largest audience.

Two additional Cowboys appearances in the “America’s Game of the Week” window and a pair of games featuring the Chicago Bears leaves Fox feeling …read more

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