The Big Crunch

The state of the NFL on opening night

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Tom Brady spikes ticket prices

Thursday night is the start of the new NFL season, when the New England Patriots will host the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After a tumultuous "deflategate"-filled offseason, the Patriots—and the rest of the league, it seems—are ready to put it all behind them, and actually get back to on-field play.

Since Tom Brady's suspension was lifted on Sept. 3, ticket prices for Thursday's game spiked up initially before settling back down. The average price for a ticket is now $487, according to the latest data from secondary market aggregator TiqIQ. That's up from $449 prior to the suspension's being lifted. Prices peaked at $539 the day after Brady was ruled free to play, a 26 percent single-day jump.

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Expensive tickets are nothing new for Patriots fans: The team's average ticket price ($351) is fourth-highest in the league, behind teams that include the Seattle Seahawks ($438) and the Denver Broncos ($378). Overall on the secondary market, the average of all NFL ticket prices are up 3 percent since last year—to $214—a small growth rate on absolute terms, but big if compared to the current no-inflation economic world.

Beyond just tickets, an even bigger growth area in the past weeks has been Brady and Patriots merchandise. Brady gear has seen a weekly growth rate of 180 percent in the days since being freed, and the Patriots as a team are up 63 percent.

Where the real money is

Beyond just one team's tickets and merchandise sales, the true driver of league stability is one thing: big-money TV contracts. In 2014, the average game on broadcast television had 19.2 million viewers, up 25 percent over 10 years, according to Nielsen.

Even growing a couple percent per year is a massive win in this media environment, when most broadcast properties have seen huge declines. That's why networks are paying billions to air one of the last media properties that can command a large broadcast audience. It has directly led to a huge jump in team valuations.

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The total value of the 32 teams is estimated to be $46 billion, according to Forbes. That's an increase of 23 percent in just one year. Notice how the teams' value has been growing much faster than the actual TV ratings, because networks keep paying up for the privilege of broadcasting games.

The fate of Roger Goodell

Despite all the controversy around NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, no insider speaking to CNBC felt he was going anywhere. "Roger Goodell will weather this storm ... the NFL will continue to thrive," said sports agent Reed Bergman, CEO of Playbook Inc. "The sheer volume and economics prove that it is a juggernaut."

A team official who spoke with CNBC said he didn't believe Goodell had any worry of losing his job. He might not have the personality as other recent commissioners, but owners accept his style and don't have any plans to push him out. It's all about winning on the field, or if you're a team owner, your pocketbook.

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