NFL ratings blitz

Blind, Black added to halftime entertainment

Are you ready for some music?

While network telecasts of NFL games are running up some impressive Nielsen scores, the league is planning on tuning up for the holidays.

The NFL is introducing what it hopes will become a holiday tradition this Thanksgiving with live halftime entertainment during football games on Fox and CBS.

The stunt comes at the season’s halfway mark, when season-to-date, all four nets carrying NFL gridcasts are up vs. last year or, at worst, breaking even.

ABC’s ”Monday Night Football” is up 2%, with a 13.9 rating, 22 share in households, Fox’s Sunday afternoon coverage has rallied by 11% to a 10.8/24, CBS’ Sunday day games are up 10% to a 9.9/22 and ESPN’s Sunday night cablecasts have improved by 15% to a national 6.3 rating.

These gains buck recent network and football trends. For example, if Fox can end the season with a ratings improvement for its National Conference coverage, it would be the first gain for that package since CBS managed an increase in 1981.

But it may be tougher for the nets to maintain these gains through the season’s second half, with nearly all of the league’s marquee teams — Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, the N.Y. Jets, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons — stumbling through the first half.

Gains so far are attributable to a schedule format that’s delivering better matchups to most markets; more sellouts, which are allowing more telecasts of local games (which outrate non-local games by about 90%); more down-to-the-wire finishes; and a much stronger launch to the season thanks to the league’s shift of opening-day games from the Labor Day weekend to the following Sunday.

Drumming up femme auds

The NFL is hoping that adding the musical acts will lure larger femme auds to the two games. “We hope to attract an even wider female fan base, knowing that women will be watching the games with their families,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. The Thanksgiving games each attract more than 40 million American viewers, 40% of whom are female, McCarthy said.

Third Eye Blind will perform during halftime of the early game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears on Fox, while country star Clint Black will take the stage during halftime of the Dallas Cowboys-Miami Dolphins game on CBS. Black will be joined by his wife, Lisa Hartman Black, Cowboys cheerleaders and former players.

Each musical performance will last nine minutes, expanding the usual Sunday game 12-minute halftime to 18 minutes. But no commercial time will be cut, according to the NFL.

Topping off the Miami Dolphins- Cowboys showdown, the Eye will present two female-skewing programs: a Shania Twain special and “Secret of Giving,” starring Reba McEntire.

The halftime show will “make the day more attractive holiday programming for a broader audience,” said CBS spokeswoman Leslieanne Wade, adding that affils are pleased with the added entertainment value. “Our affiliates are pretty happy with anything to do with football,” Wade said.