Notre Dame’s Win Over Clemson Gives NBC Highest Ratings in 27 Years

Anthony Crupi
·4 min read

NBC on Saturday night earned bragging rights to its second highest-rated Notre Dame football broadcast in its 30-year partnership with the school, and all it took was an Irish upset at home over No. 1 Clemson in double-overtime.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Notre Dame’s 47-40 double-overtime victory in South Bend averaged 10.1 million viewers and a 5.4 household rating, making it the team’s most-watched outing on NBC since Nov. 13, 1993, when the No. 2 Irish beat No. 1 Florida State 31-24. NBC averaged a staggering 22 million viewers and a 16.0 rating on the night, which as it happens gave rise to a long-standing cable tradition. The advance hype for the game was at such a fever pitch that ESPN would send its College GameDay crew to televise the show’s first-ever live pregame show.

When streaming deliveries are factored in, Saturday night’s broadcast averaged 10.2 million viewers. The digital lift provided just enough of a boost to help NBC out-draw its most recent 10 million-plus Fighting Irish production. All told, the Clemson-Notre Dame game scared up some 108,000 more viewers than did the 2005 USC-Notre Dame broadcast, now remembered for the controversial “Bush Push” play—the Trojans secured their come-from-behind victory (and subsequent title defense against Texas) with three seconds on the clock when Reggie Bush shoved a stifled Matt Leinart over the goal line.

If streaming put the Clemson game over the top—in the absence of the non-linear impressions, Saturday night’s game would have fallen shy of the 2005 broadcast by 5,000 viewers—the household ratings were much further apart. USC’s sneaky 34-31 win of 15 years ago averaged a 6.7 rating.

As one might well expect, NBC’s strong showing rocketed it to the top of the college football ratings heap. Per Nielsen, Saturday night’s nail-biter knocked CBS’s primetime Georgia-Alabama showdown (9.61 million viewers, 5.3 rating) from the top spot. And while an ACC matchup now boasts the fractured college football season’s highest deliveries, the SEC and Big Ten still have plenty of opportunities to reclaim the throne. Among the upcoming matchups that could put either conference over the top are the Nov. 28 Iron Bowl on CBS and Fox’s Dec. 12 presentation of the latest installment in the Michigan-Ohio State blood feud.

Last season, Alabama-Auburn averaged 11.4 million viewers and a 6.3 rating on CBS, while earlier that same afternoon, Buckeyes-Wolverines scared up 12.7 million viewers and a 7.1 rating on Fox. That said, the networks are going to have to luck into a real barnburner or two if they’re to top last year’s biggest regular-season draw; CBS’s coverage of LSU’s 46-41 road win in Tuscaloosa averaged 16.6 million viewers and a 9.7 rating.

Data from the ad-tracking firm Standard Media Index indicates that the Irish last season earned NBC its biggest college football windfall during an Oct. 12 primetime meeting with USC. The Irish prevailed by a 30-27 margin in a broadcast that generated $4.11 million in ad revenue. The average unit cost for the game worked out to be around $58,764 per 30 seconds of airtime, while the scatter rate was nearly double that at just over $104,000 a pop.

Among the top advertisers in Saturday’s Clemson-Notre Dame broadcast were Bristol-Myers Squibb’s cancer medication Opdivo, State Farm, Jersey Mike’s, U.S. Bank, Geico, Coca-Cola and Gillette. That the Tigers entered the game ranked No. 1 in both polls went a long way toward boosting the average in-game unit cost, which buyers said was north of $125,000 for each half-minute.

In bumping off Clemson, Notre Dame (7-0) moved up to the No. 2 spot on the AP Top 25 and the Coaches’ Poll, where it sits between top-ranked Alabama (6-0) and No. 3 Ohio State (3-0). NBC’s next scheduled Fighting Irish broadcast features a visit from the 1-7 Syracuse Orange in the 3:30 p.m. EST window on Dec. 5. This marks the first time in its 133-year history that Notre Dame’s football program will be eligible to compete in a conference championship game, as 2020 marks the beginning of the school’s one-off revenue-sharing arrangement with the ACC.

Notre Dame’s TV rights deal with NBC brings in $15 million per year and is current through the 2025 season.

Naturally, after Saturday night’s thrill ride, many college football fans are pulling for a rematch in the ACC Championship Game. Disney also would welcome a reprise; the Dec. 19 title tilt is set to air on ESPN or ABC.

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