Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne’s famous admonition to his team to “win just one for the Gipper,” is falling on deaf ears so far this season: the Irish is off to a lousy 0-2 start.
It’s a sure bet that the Irish eyes at NBC aren’t smiling. That’s because the network ponied up $45 million for an exclusive six-year deal in 1998 to nationally televise all Notre Dame home games.
In the first Notre Dame home game of the year, against Michigan State on Sept. 22, NBC managed only a 2.9 rating, a 34% dropoff from the 4.4 rating for the game a year ago.
Another consequence of the team’s poor play: WLS-TV Chicago has decided to replace Saturday’s Notre Dame game at Texas A&M with the Illinois vs. Michigan contest.
The substitution was easy for WLS, an ABC-owned station, to engineer because ABC is feeding both games as part of its seven-game regional coverage. An ABC spokesman said the network relies on the local stations to judge which are the most relevant games in their markets.
But most observers say NBC is unlikely to suffer any defections by its affiliates, even if Notre Dame continues to rack up losses. “Notre Dame always plays tough at home, even though it faces one of the most difficult schedules every year,” said Rick Gentile, a sports-media consultant and head of his own company 24 Prods.
David Carter, a principal in the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group, said, “An NBC affiliate couldn’t jettison Notre Dame games just because the team is off to a slow start. Notre Dame still plays the most exciting football and still has the most powerful brand in all of college football.
“And it’s inconceivable that the team would ever get blown out at home. The fans just wouldn’t let that happen.”