Irish eyes are smiling – the big business of Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame plays their biggest football game in decades Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum, ranked number one for the first time in decades, the Irish meet the USC Trojans. If the Fighting Irish beat USC, Notre Dame will play in the BCS title game January 7, 2013 in Miami. The 2012 football season has been a wonderful and magical ride for the Irish, the pot at the end their rainbow filled with gold.

Days before the Irish kicked off their season September 1 in Dublin beating Navy 50-10, former NFL player and Fighting Irish radio analyst Allen Pinkett offered this sound byte on Chicago radio.

“I’ve always felt like, to have a successful team, you gotta have a few bad citizens on the team,” Pinkett told Chicago’s The McNeil and Spiegel Show. “I mean, that’s how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals. That just adds to the chemistry of the team. I think Notre Dame is growing because maybe they have some guys that are doing something worthy of a suspension, which creates edge on the football team. You can’t have a football team full of choir boys. You get your butt kicked if you have a team full of choir boys. You gotta have a little bit of edge, but the coach has to be the dictator and ultimate ruler.”

“I don’t want any mass murders or rapists,” Pinkett said. “I want guys that maybe get caught drinking that are underage, or guys that maybe got arrested because they got in a fight at a bar, or guys that are willing to cuss in public and don’t mind the repercussions of it. That’s the type of criminal I’m talking about.”

When given a chance to clarify his comments, Pinkett wasn’t backing down.

“I absolutely meant that,” he said. “Chemistry is so important on a football team. You have to have a couple of bad guys that sorta teeter on that edge to add to the flavor of the guys that are going to always do right. … You look at the teams that have one in the past. They always have a couple of criminals.”

Pickett wasn’t fired for his comments, he was suspended for three games, he’ll be in the broadcast booth Saturday night. How misguided do Pickett’s comments appear to be on now?

The Irish are 11-0 heading into Saturday’s night’s game, assured of appearing in a BCS bowl. If the Irish beat USC they will be be off to the title game, if not, one of the remaining BCS bowls will try and entice the Irish to accept an invitation to appear in their game.

Global Strategy Group for ESPN Research and Analytics, along with SportsCenter asked more than 1,025 college football fans on November 20 if the resurgence of Notre Dame football has fueled their interest in college football.

The survey found that 52 percent of self-identified avid fans say they are more excited about this season thanks to Notre Dame's resurgence. Not surprisingly, 77 percent of Notre Dame fans say their team's run to the top is a "major factor" in why they consider the season more enthralling than in the past.

The survey found that only 39 percent of avid fans would vote the Irish as No. 1 right now if they had a vote in the Associated Press poll, while 24 percent favor second-ranked Alabama. Despite that, Alabama is the pick of avid fans to win the national championship (40 percent, to just 29 percent for Notre Dame). Even among Irish fans, 47 percent think their team will win the title, while 37 percent think Alabama will win.

Regardless of the outcome from Saturday’s USC game, Notre Dame is heading to a BCS game and will receive $6.2 million for appearing in a BCS Bowl. Each of the other schools appearing in BCS Bowls receives $23.6 million, however each of the other schools (Alabama – SEC, Wisconsin – Big Ten) have to share their BCS bowl payout with the other schools in their conference. As an independent, Notre Dame will retain all of their BCS money.

The BCS standings began in 1998; this is the first time Notre Dame is on top of the BCS. The Irish ranked number one in the football polls where they are currently are hasn’t happened since 1993 – these are indeed heady days for Notre Dame’s football program.

Notre Dame as ESPN’s survey shows is the strongest brand in college football, arguably the biggest brand in college sports and one of the biggest brands in the sports industry. The last six BCS champions have come from the SEC; if Notre Dame wins Saturday they’ll meet the SEC championship game winner, a BCS title game for the ages.

Saturday ESPN airs College Gameday live from the USC campus – starting at 7 AM local time, the lead-in to ABC’s coverage of the Notre Dame – USC game Saturday night. ESPN has the rights to the BCS title game January 7 from Miami’s Sunlife Stadium. Notre Dame in the BCS title game – could set a new ratings record for a BCS title game.

According to SI.com’s Richard Deitsch “The most-viewed national championship game of the BCS era came in 2006 when Vince Young-led Texas defeated USC, which featured Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. The game drew 35.6 million viewers on ABC and was the most-watched NCAA championship game since at least 1991, when Nielsen records began for college football. The second- and third-most-viewed games of the BCS era aired on Fox, including the 2007 title game (No. 2 Florida over No. 1 Ohio State, 28.8 million viewers) and the 2009 title game (No. 2 Florida over No. 1 Oklahoma, 26.8 million viewers). Last year's Alabama-LSU title game averaged 24.2 million viewers, down about 11 percent from the previous year.”

The resurgence of Notre Dame football has fueled merchandise sales.

“Notre Dame merchandise has been purchased from all 50 states this season, including one item from Puerto Rico,” said Meier Raivich, Vice President of Communications and Corporate Branding at Fanatics, Inc., a leading online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise in a Forbes report. ”Since August 30, Notre Dame ranks as the second-best selling school in the country on Fanatics.com, up 76% from last year’s first six weeks of the season, and only behind #1 ranked Alabama in 2012 (Notre Dame took over the number one spot in mid-October).

”Notre Dame is a national brand, and along with the ease of going online to Fanatics.com to purchase Fighting Irish merchandise, the school’s resurgence is reaching fans across the country,” explained Raivich. ”91% of fans who have purchased Notre Dame merchandise on our website since the start of September live outside of Indiana.”

Notre Dame’s football is a lot like Howard Stern’s radio audience. You either love or hate Howard Stern but you listen (or listened as his audience continues to shrink) to Howard Stern on the radio. There is sense of entitlement Notre Dame fans have, similar to how New York Yankees fans act. Saturday night, Irish eyes will be focused on their beloved football game, along with those who aren’t fans of Notre Dame football, great news for ABC and the business of college football.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom