The Notre Dame-NBC partnership will span a generation.
On Thursday the network announced a 10-year extension to its contract with Notre Dame, which grants it broadcast rights to the football program’s home schedule and Shamrock Series. The deal takes effect in 2016 and runs through the 2025 season.
Financial terms of the deal were not announced. Negotiations spanned the past 18 months.
The extension was not a move to strengthen Notre Dame’s independent stance in the changing college sports landscape, but athletics director Jack Swarbrick could see it interpreted that way.
The NBC relationship was revolutionary when it began in 1991. Swarbrick expects it to be more expansionist by the time this 10-year extension takes effect.
“I think it strengthens us in a lot of different ways,” Swarbrick said “It’s not intended to be a signal about (independence). Our commitment to it isn’t more today than it was two years ago. It’s a starting point for our planning in what we wanted to achieve.”
The extension keeps Notre Dame linked with not only NBC, but with Comcast and the NBC Sports Network. The channel, estimated to penetrate 80 million homes, will broadcast the Blue-Gold Game this weekend. It will also show a Notre Dame football spring football feature. That follows programming of Irish hockey, lacrosse and basketball.
NBC has the right to move a Notre Dame home game off its over-the-air network to the cable television. It has that option in the current contract as well.. Swarbrick said Notre Dame has a vested interest in growing the NBC Sports Network but said an Irish home game moving to cable isn’t imminent.
“That’s really a great partner for us as you can see through the number of shows we’ve distributed through it over the last year,” he said. “We don’t have any reluctance to have that happen.”
The new NBC contract will have Notre Dame play five night games over a two-year span. That means three night games inside Notre Dame Stadium to go with the two Shamrock Series games off-site, which have always kicked off at night. Swarbrick said the night game double in South Bend wouldn’t start this season.
Swarbrick said the NBC extension isn’t a de facto extension for the Shamrock Series, which has taken Notre Dame to Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York the past three years. The Irish face Arizona State in Arlington, Texas this season.
“It provides an easy way for us to deliver one of those night game obligations,” Swarbrick said. “But our belief in the Shamrock Series, we think it’s a home run in all it’s delivered to our program. It’s a pretty powerful model and it’s worked very, very well.”
That off-site series began awkwardly for Notre Dame against Washington State in San Antonio, Texas, in a non-sellout. It appears the ACC scheduling model may have similar fits and starts before the conference and its Midwest partner figure it out.
Arizona State was irate about Notre Dame dropping the Sun Devils in 2014, the first season the Irish are required to play five ACC programs. A trip to Florida State will be one of those games. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are listed on the schedule already.
Swarbrick didn’t address the Arizona State complaint head on but hinted the Sun Devils aren’t the only program in danger of being dropped.
Under the ACC agreement, Notre Dame submits its open dates to the conference, which then fills them with teams at the league’s discretion.
“I underestimated the challenge of the date matching,” Swarbrick said. “(The ACC) has got things they’re trying to achieve … which makes for the best matchups and promotes the games.
“We’re going to have a lot more back and forth than I anticipated, but that’s because I didn’t have a full appreciation for the challenge of putting the pieces together.”
Swarbrick added there is nothing imminent on a contract extension for Brian Kelly and that he anticipates a summer resolution.
He added that Notre Dame Stadium will undergo a partial sod replacement this off-season and the stadium will continue to be natural grass moving forward.
There are no plans for a video scoreboard addition, Swarbrick said.
On the issue of natural grass, Swarbrick said last season’s field conditions provided optimism that Notre Dame can maintain a grass field in the Midwest. However, he added that a desire to expand usage of the stadium could change the field outlook.
“I was really pleased last season,” he said. “I was pretty clear with my disappointment the season before. A lot of people worked very hard to provide a better surface for our team and I thought it showed. That was encouraging.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to repeat that success this year.”