NBC renewed its television contract with Notre Dame football through the 2015 season on Thursday despite the Fighting Irish last year drawing their lowest ratings since the network began broadcasting their games in 1991.
NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said the network doesn’t look at year-to-year results when it comes to Notre Dame, calling the football program a premier brand that defines the network as much as the Olympics, the NFL and the U.S. Open golf championship.
“We’re big believers in how Notre Dame time and time again over all these generations has maintained its strength,” he said. “I don’t see that going away.”
Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed, although Ebersol said the contract is a flat fee and not based on ratings. The current contract that expires in 2010 is reported to be worth $9 million a year.
Ebersol said the important thing for Notre Dame, which hasn’t won a national championship since 1988, is to be in the race to be a top 10 team in most years “for it to be a wildly successful arrangement.”
“We go into this thinking that if the vast majority of the years has Notre Dame competitive in that top 10 or for that top 10 through the majority of the season, then we’ll be very happy,” he said.
The Irish have finished the season ranked 10th or higher just three times in the 17 years its home games have been televised on NBC — No. 4 in 1992, No. 2 in 1993 and No. 9 in 2005. They have been finished ranked in the Top 25 in seven other seasons and finished .500 or worse five times.
The TV ratings last year, when Notre Dame went 3-9, averaged a 1.9 rating and a 5 share, down from an average ratings of 3.0 and a 7 share in 2006 when they were 10-3 and ranked No. 17 and a 3.6 ratings and a 9 share in 2005 when they were 9-3 and No. 9. The previous low ratings for Notre Dame football on NBC were 2.4 ratings and 6 shares in both 2003, when the Irish finished 5-7, and 2001, when they finished 5-6.
Ebersol said he has confidence the new deal will be good for NBC and predicted the network would continue to broadcast Irish games past 2015.
“I have no doubt that over the majority of years going forward this will be a sensational deal for both sides,” Ebersol said.
The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, said the contract ensures that Irish fans will get to see all eight home games broadcast nationwide.
“That’s wonderful for our fans,” he said.
Money from NBC contracts have provided $26 million in financial aid for academic scholarships at Notre Dame, Jenkins said.
This contract calls for seven homes games per season and an eighth offsite home game played at a neutral stadium. The offsite game will begin next year against Washington State in San Antonio, Texas, on Oct. 31, 2009.
The only other announced offsite game is against Arizona State in Arlington, Texas, in 2013. The school also will play against unspecified teams at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., in 2011 and 2014. The offsite games will be played in prime time while the games at Notre Dame Stadium will be played on Saturday afternoons, Jenkins said.
“We just feel it’s very disruptive for our students, for the academic life at the university to have a game at night,” Jenkins said. “NBC has always been accommodating to us on that even though their viewership increases as the game gets later.”