While Rice coverage still circulated in mid-September, former league Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson became embroiled in his own legal problems over physically punishing his 4-year-old son. He wasn't allowed back on the field for the rest of the season. The troubles hit while the NFL slogged through disagreements over a settlement deal with thousands of former players who sought compensation for health ailments stemming from injuries suffered on the field.
The NFL did not respond to CNBC's requests for comment. But by most indicators, the league has persisted or grown despite those and other public relations fires it had to extinguish.
"The product is so powerful that it can kind of wash away some of these effects," said Ross Steinman, chairperson and associate professor of psychology at Widener University who has studied fan psychology.
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Take Super Bowl ticket prices, which seem resistant to any negative NFL coverage. Resale ticket vendor TiqIQ notes that the average ticket sat above $4,400 on Wednesday, nearly $400 higher than on Monday, the day after the Patriots and Seattle Seahawks won their conference championship games and "deflategate" headlines first started to surface. Wednesday's "get-in" price sat at $2,125, more than $100 higher than the year before.
An average of 17.6 million viewers watched NFL games during the 2014 regular season, the highest since 2010, according to Nielsen.
Fans tuned in with even more fervor in the playoffs. More people watched the divisional playoff games this month than in any season before, according to a release from the NFL. Even though that number was down from the year prior, viewership for Sunday's NFC Championship game, with an average of 49.8 million viewers, still topped every U.S. TV event, sports or otherwise, since last year's Super Bowl, according to NBC Sports.
The media and advertising frenzy surrounding the Super Bowl has shown no signs of slowing down, either. Super Bowl ads this year hit a record rate of about $4.5 million for a 30-second slot and at least 95 percent of ads sold out earlier this month, NBC Sports announced.
"Importantly, the owners back the commissioner and the league's TV partners and sponsors appear, at least on the surface, satisfied with league matters. The NFL, its brand, and America's obsession with it continues unabated," USC's Carter said.