FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Alabama. Notre Dame. Could the combination of the two venerable programs tonight in the BCS National Championship Game blow the top off the TV ratings?
Industry insiders are thinking it has a chance.
“I always judge how big the BCS game is by how many ticket requests I get,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president for college programing.
He smiled and added, “This is going to be a huge game.”
Since the Bowl Championship Series era began in 1998, Southern California and Texas set the TV ratings record with their matchup at the end of the 2005 season. Texas won 41-38 and clinched the national title as Heisman Trophy runner-up Vince Young outdueled two Heisman winners, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, in the Rose Bowl.
That game drew a 21.7 rating, according to Neilsen statistics. Second place belongs to Oklahoma’s 13-2 win over Florida State to win the 2000 national title. That one scored a 17.8.
“The greatest game we’ve ever had in the BCS was Texas and USC. But our TV guys are telling me that if this game stays close, it’s going to break the record,” said Tony Barnhart, a columnist for CBSsports.com and a regular on CBS college football analysis shows.
“USC and Texas are great programs, but they’re not the great brand names of Notre Dame and Alabama.”
Neither Alabama nor Notre Dame come from large television markets, but the Crimson Tide has managed top ratings anyway.
Alabama played in the highest-rated regular-season game in each of the past three seasons, including the 2012 SEC Championship Game against Georgia, the 2011 home game against LSU and the 2010 home game against Auburn.
Meanwhile, resurgent Notre Dame, which is aiming for its first national title since 1988, still has enough of a national draw to maintain its own TV contract with NBC.
The Irish scored the second-highest rating for 2012. The Irish won 22-13 over Southern California. ABC landed that game and drew a 9.4 with its telecast.
This one appears to have drawn interest in the New York City market.
The New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro wrote recently about how Notre Dame and Alabama are giving the Big Apple a reason to pay attention to college football, especially considering how popular the Irish are there.
“So we have our icons back,” he wrote. “We have Notre Dame. We have Alabama. We have titans to watch, giants to root for, just what we needed to remind us what a splendid sport this really is. Give us the upstarts and the rest again next year. This’ll do just fine for now.”
Veteran broadcaster Brent Musberger, who will perform play-by-play duties for ESPN’s game broadcast tonight, said Alabama and Notre Dame are kind of like the New York Yankees of college football. Even people who don’t like them want to watch.
“Not only is there great passion and great love for Alabama, the SEC and for Notre Dame, but you’ve got a lot of people begging for the other side to lose,” Musberger said. “Some people just can’t wait for the SEC to lose. Some just don’t like Notre Dame and want them to lose.”
That Texas-USC Rose Bowl featured a tight game. It wasn’t decided until Young ran for the winning touchdown with 19 seconds to play.
“Alabama and Notre Dame still have to live up to the billing to get a better TV rating that Texas-USC,” Barnhart said. “It can be a great game, and if it’s close, But it has all the elements.”
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