Notre Dame peaks at right time for TV deal

Don’t expect to see Notre Dame joining the ACC or any other conference for football anytime soon. Being the No. 1 team in the country and earning a berth in the BCS National Championship assures that a healthy new broadcast rights deal from NBC is just around the corner -- one that will pay the university enough dissuade it from joining a conference.

“The timing couldn’t be better for Notre Dame to be No. 1,” said Lee Berke, president and CEO of sports media consulting firm LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media. “For Notre Dame to become Notre Dame again -- a national team with a substantial, powerful following for its football team … you couldn’t plan it out better.”

Berke said winning the title would be icing on the cake, even though the university’s current TV contract is not up until 2015.

“The important thing is that they made it to the game,” Berke said. “They generated strong ratings. [The game against] USC was the highest-rated college football game of the year. The BCS National Championship could potentially be the largest audience for a college football game ever.

“From an off-the-field standpoint, they already accomplished what they needed to accomplish. Ultimately, they made the statement ‘Notre Dame is back,’ and that’s what they need.”

Industry experts peg the Fighting Irish’s current NBC contract at $15 million annually, less than the $17 million per year ACC teams will average under their new contract with ESPN.

“That’s an economic issue all the parties are aware of,” former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson said. “Up to this point, the deal with NBC has been sufficient to allow [Notre Dame] to stay independent in terms of football. I would be surprised if that relationship doesn’t continue.”

Aside from the money, Pilson said Notre Dame reaps other benefits from the NBC partnership that it would lose if it joined a conference.

“Notre Dame has a special scheduling opportunity with NBC,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about other games. They get good time periods.”

Pilson and Berke agree that NBC will fight to hold onto the property.

“Notre Dame is a very efficient partner for NBC,” said Pilson. “It gives them exposure in college football with just one school. NBC, I think, is committed to the Notre Dame relationship much in the way that CBS is committed to Augusta National for the Masters. I think they will renew.”

Said Berke: “[Notre Dame is] already part of the family. If you want to guarantee seven to eight top games a season, you already have that in house. With other conferences signing up with ESPN and FOX, this is a way for NBC to maintain a presence in college football.”

Yet 2015 is a ways away, so will Notre Dame need another top-ranked season to ensure a lucrative deal?

Berke doesn’t think so.

“They’ve demonstrated the audience is there and the potential is there,” he said. “All sports are cyclical with up and down years, but they’ve demonstrated in down years they have a decent audience and in up years they can truly dominate the college sports scene. The top college football teams in the country -- Notre Dame is there. They have been for decades and will be for decades to come.”