Ballmer billions, NHL record hauls chump change to NFL — even in offseason

Steve Ballmer (left) dropped $2 billion to buy the Clippers. People will pay $2,000 to watch Henrik Lundqvist (right) play hockey. But for Roger Goodell and the NFL, it's been there, done that.

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With fans (and televisions) in Los Angeles and New York set to face off in the Stanley Cup Final mega-matchup between the Kings and Rangers, there has been plenty of talk of the re-emergence of hockey as a player in the mainstream US sports scene.

And a former Silicon Valley giant’s recent agreed-upon $2 billion bid to purchase an NBA team that isn’t even the top draw in its own city is probably big enough to get even Bill Gates to switch from the FOX Business Network to FOX Sports 1, if even for five minutes.

Feel-good stories of the little sport that could are nice and all (and more than $2,000 for a ticket is a steep price for anyone about two or more tax brackets below Steve Ballmer), but there have been plenty of other recent headlines that prove, regardless of who is playing for what trophy in any other league, there is only one king in American sports. And it doesn’t even kick off for another three-plus months.

From Madison Avenue to Wall Street, television to Twitter, the NFL is still the undisputed $9 billion-a-year champion in the US of A.

But before scanning recent headlines to see the true power of the NFL, here’s a quick refresher on the high-dollar, big-TV waves the NHL and NBA have made recently.

• The puck drops on the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at Staples Center, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Tickets to the game reportedly are going for an average of more than $1,100, with the average price to attend Game 7 expected to clear $2,000 by game time, should that final game be necessary. In New York, tickets to next Monday’s Game 3 at Madison Square Garden already are topping $2,000.

• On Tuesday, Nielsen released TV viewership figures for Sunday’s Game 7 of the Western Conference Final between the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks. The game averaged 4.1 million viewers on NBC Sports Network, the most for a non-Stanley Cup Final hockey game since Nielsen began keeping records in 1994.

• And of course last week, Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO, agreed to purchase the LA Clippers for $2 billion, the second-highest price tag for a professional sports franchise in history (falling just short of the Dodgers’ price tag in 2012).

Now here’s what the NFL has been up to in the past month, smack dab in the middle of its offseason.

• On Tuesday, Nielsen released This TV Season’s Biggest Moments on Twitter. Here is a graphic provided by Nielsen in its release:

Most of the buzz surrounded records smashed by "Breaking Bad" and "The Voice" for tweeting during the airing of a television show. But the television event which generated the most tweets (25.3 million) and reached the most people (15.3 million Twitter users) was Super Bowl XLVIII on FOX on Feb. 2. Again, 4.1 million people viewed a hockey game and smashed NHL records, 15.3 million viewed tweets about the Super Bowl.

• Late last week, Variety reported that NBC will charge advertisers $4.5 million for a 30-second spot during next year’s Super Bowl. That would be a whopping 12.5-percent bump from the $4 million FOX charged for the same air time last year. At $9 million per minute, it would take far more commercials than can fit into one football game to drum up the revenue generated by the Clippers sale, but the $550 million paid to buy the Milwaukee Bucks in April (the second-biggest price tag in NBA history) could be covered in about an hour of commercials. Talk about bang for the buck.

• Earlier in May, AT&T announced it was entering into a deal to merge with satellite TV giant DirecTV. As soon as the announcement was made, speculation began as to just how long it would take the federal government to review the proposed $50 billion deal — one of the largest telecom mergers in US history. And as analysts have further sunk their teeth into the deal, there is widespread agreement on one of the real jewels of the deal for AT&T, and one of the potential hang-ups for regulatory approval: DirecTV’s exclusive Sunday Ticket deal with the NFL. The deal reportedly costs DirecTV a whopping $1 billion per season, and there are reports that if the NFL and DirecTV don’t re-up when the current deal ends after this season, it could destroy the entire AT&T-DirecTV merger. Think Sidney Crosby or LeBron James has the power to kill a $50 billion Wall Street merger?

• The NFL actually was big-timed by Radio City Music Hall for the recently conducted NFL Draft, being forced to move the event from its customary April slot back to May. The move was to accommodate a scheduling change for the Hall’s famed Rockettes, a show which ultimately was canceled and meant the NFL moved the draft for nothing. But this is the NFL, and in the NFL, nothing happens for nothing. The TV and social-media response to the draft was a smash hit, and now the NFL is considering keeping the draft in May and turning it into a road show — and putting the hosting rights up to the highest bidder. Think paying to host the draft will be a hard sell for Roger Goodell? There are reportedly more than 10 cities interested in ponying up to host the event. While it’s hard to speculate just how much the price tag could be or how much the NHL or NBA could get for a similar move, consider these TV viewership figures:

NFL Draft: 45.7 million viewers (broadcast on multiple channels over three days)

NHL Western Conference final Game 7: 4.1 million average, an NHL record

NBA Eastern Conference finals: 7.2 million average for six games (broadcast on both ESPN and ABC)

NBA Western Conference finals: 6.8 million average for six games (broadcast on TNT)

That would mean more people watched NFL teams call out college players’ names for three days than watched an entire series featuring LeBron James and Paul George, or Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.

So how many days to kickoff?