Earlier this week, the American Conference announced that the CBS Sports Network extended its deal to broadcast Navy home football games to 2027. A minor, but important aspect of this extension was the addition of the rights to the Notre Dame-Navy game in even-numbered years to the American’s TV contract. This addition immediately puts Navy towards the top of the American in exposure and dollars by upping their bi-annual payout from ESPN, if nothing else. A year-by-year analysis of ratings figures provided by Sports Media Watch prove the television value of the rivalry.
Despite starting at 9 AM ET on CBS due to being played in Ireland, the game was still the fifth-most watched game of the day, receiving a 1.9 overnight rating. It ranked ahead of two games featuring top-5 teams (#3 Oregon-Arkansas State and #1 USC-Hawaii).
The 2013 game, televised on NBC, was again the fifth-most watched game of the day, receiving 2.56 million viewers and a 1.7 rating. Despite all of this, it was only the third-most watched game in its time slot (3:30 ET-7 ET), ranking behind Florida-Georgia and Michigan-Michigan State.
Arguably the best game in terms of exposure for the rivalry in recent memory. For just the second time in series history, and the first time since 1986, the game was played in prime time, at 8 ET on CBS. The 2014 meeting also marked the first time Navy played on prime time on an over-the-air network. The game was the fourth-highest rated game of the day, receiving a 2.3 rating and attracting 3.89 million viewers. It was also the most watched game in its time slot, ranking above two games featuring top-5 teams (#1 Mississippi State-Arkansas and #5 Oregon-Stanford).
2015 was a down year for the rivalry’s ratings. Televised on NBC at 3:30, it was only the eighth-most watched game of the day, receiving a 1.7 rating and attracting 2.639 viewers. It was the third-most watched game in its time-slot, behind Georgia-Tennessee and ABC’s regional coverage of Wisconsin-Nebraska and Georgia Tech-Clemson.
2016 marked another landmark year for the rivalry. With a 1.6 rating and 2.420 million viewers, the game, televised at 11:30 AM ET on CBS, was the fifth most watched game of the day and most watched game in its time slot. The ranked ahead of two games featuring top-10 teams (#8 Wisconsin-Northwestern and #5 Louisville-Boston College).
The 2017 game, televised on NBC at 3:30 ET, received superb ratings once again. Ranking ahead of three match-ups featuring ranked teams (#3 Oklahoma-Kansas, #11 Ohio State-Illinois, and #13 Michigan State-Maryland), the game was the second-most watched game in its time slot, and the fifth-most watched game of the day with a 2.0 rating and 3.203 million viewers.
The numbers do not lie, the Notre Dame-Navy game is an attractive rivalry. It brings together two of the biggest brands in college football. Furthermore, the ability to televise this rivalry bi-annually grants the American access to possibly the most well-known brand in college football.
Despite the 30 year title drought and the recent November collapses, Notre Dame sells. If you need proof, look at the ratings of their game at Temple in 2015. The game, which was ABC’s weekly night game, set records in the fourth largest TV market in the U.S. and was the most-watched game of the week. While a resurgent and talented Temple team contributed to the appeal of the game, it was largely the presence of the Fighting Irish that reeled in the viewers.
While ABC already televises a minimum of three American games per year, the caliber of games pales in comparison to the exposure of the Notre Dame-Navy game. In fact, it is not uncommon for ABC to reverse-mirror their American-controlled games, diluting the exposure the league receives. Since the TV deal began in 2013, ABC has televised 18 American games, reverse-mirroring five of them. Reverse-mirroring is when ESPN has two games, and in some regions Game A is broadcast on ABC, while Game B is on ESPN2, and in other regions, it is the other way around. Notre Dame-Navy provides TV revenue and national scope that games like East Carolina-Virginia Tech and Texas Tech-Houston simply lack.
While the move may seem like a small one, it can go a long way for the American by time the next television negotiating period comes.