The Future of Army-Navy


With Navy’s 6th straight win in the series, we’ve reached a new frontier in Army-Navy history. Until now, neither team had ever been able to string together this many consecutive victories. It isn’t the first big streak, though. Army won 5 straight from 1992-1996, and that was part of a longer trend as the Cadets (not the Black Knights back then) were 9-2 against Navy from ’86-’96. That followed a stretch from 1973-1985 where Navy had the upper hand, going 10-2-1 against Army. The Mids had two other 5-game win streaks; from 1959-1963, and from 1939-1943. Army didn’t lose a game to Navy from 1922-1933, although there were two ties over that span (including the 1926 “Game of the Century”). So while a winning streak this long is unprecedented, streaks in general aren’t unusual in the rivalry.

Unlike most of these other streaks, though, the wave that Navy is currently riding comes at a time where TV money dominates college football. Army and Navy are not immune to the need for cash to remain competitive, and one of their biggest sources of revenue is the Army-Navy Game. Does Navy’s winning streak make the Army-Navy Game less desirable to broadcasters? One could argue that Army’s winning streak from ’92-’96 came in the same TV money era, but those were all close, exciting, competitive games (Army won by an average of 2 points per game over that span). The average score during Navy’s current run is 40-12. Will the lopsided results of the last 6 years have an adverse financial impact on the Navy football program?

CBS outbid ABC for the rights to broadcast Army-Navy at the end of Army’s 5-year run, and that 10-year contract expires after next year. They bent over backwards to win back then, too. I mean, really, is there any other reason why you’d see Army-Navy basketball on CBS each year? It’s part of the Army-Navy football package. CBS made the bid for a good reason; back when they won it, Army-Navy was the only game in town. At least the only college football game, anyway. This was before conference championship games; Army-Navy’s main TV competition was college basketball. Since football is king in this country, it wasn’t much competition at all. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1989:

The Army-Navy football game has no implications on the national championship, but it’s the one game CBS can count on every year for a solid rating, even when the competition is a pair of basketball games including ranked teams. Judging by the overnight Nielsen ratings, Army-Navy blew away the basketball with a 7.7 national rating (9.8 locally) to 3.3 for ABC’s doubleheader between Duke-Michigan and North Carolina-Iowa and 2.7 for Oklahoma-Nevada Las Vegas on NBC.

Compare that to this year’s ratings, courtesy of Sports Media Watch:

College football ratings
8.3: BCS Selection Show (Sun., 12/2, 7:45 PM FOX); down 12% from ’06.
7.3: Big 12 Championship Game, OK/Miss (Sat., 12/1, 8 PM ABC); up 74% from ’06.
6.0: SEC Championship Game, LSU/TN (Sat., 12/1, 4 PM CBS); up 28% from ’06.
4.2: ACC Championship Game, VT/BC (Sat., 12/1, 1 PM ABC); up 5% from ’06.
3.8: USC/UCLA (Sat., 12/1, 4:30 PM ABC); down 54% from ’06.
2.4: Army/Navy (Sat., 12/1, 12 PM CBS); down 8% from ’06.

I can’t find a link, unfortunately, but I read last year that the ratings for the 2006 edition of Army-Navy were down 20% from 2005. The 2005 game was a big one, if you’ll remember. Army came in on a 4-game winning streak, including a win over Air Force. Navy was 6-4. Army played what many claimed was a tougher schedule, and there was a lot of talk about how Army had “caught up” to Navy and that the Black Knights were going to put up a better fight. There was a decent amout of hype surrounding that game. But the people who tuned in ended up seeing another Navy blowout. When 2006 rolled around, viewers apparently weren’t going to be fooled again. And that might be a problem when we take bids on the game next year.

There is a certain core group that will watch Army-Navy no matter what. People like the pomp & circumstance that surrounds the game. A lot of these types might not watch another college football game. But that group isn’t very big. College football fans appreciate a good rivalry, because they know that there will be drama when the game is close. It makes the game appealing even if both teams come into the game with losing records. But when the game isn’t close, those fans tune out. And lately, fans have been tuning out the Army-Navy Game. Fewer viewers mean less ad revenue. Maybe I’m imagining things, but I really felt like there were fewer commercials during the game this year. And half of those commercials came from one company (Jeep). If advertisers aren’t buying time during the game, then the game is worth less to broadcasters. If the game is worth less, then bids won’t be as high. And that goes straight to NAAA’s bottom line. (By the way, the Subway ad with the ref explaining a blown call and how he was going to do a “make-up call” in the second half was hilarious.)

Navy’s success is paying dividends in season ticket sales, bowl games, and CSTV. But if we don’t want Army-Navy to dry up, then Army needs to get better soon.

Future sites: The other big part of the future of the game is where it will be played. After its second trip to Baltimore in 7 years, the game returns to Philadelphia in 2008 and 2009. Cities will soon start bidding for the next round of games beginning with 2010. Last time around, 16 cities from Miami to Boston to Seattle to San Antonio explored the possibility of hosting Army-Navy. The cost of transporting 8,000 midshipmen and cadets, though, limited the number of candidates with a relistic shot at winning. Nevertheless, I expect roughly the same number of cities to at least explore the possibility of bringing Army-Navy to town.

I believe that the game belongs in Philadelphia. I think that being associated with a single city adds to the name-brand recognition of the game, like a bowl game. Being located halfway between Annapolis and West Point makes obvious sense for season ticket holders at both schools for whom the Army-Navy game is the crown jewel of their ticket packages. The only thing that would change my mind is if Philadelphia started taking the game for granted again. Any more cardiologists’ conventions booking up all the hotel rooms or stadium railing held up by duct tape, and it’d be time to shop around. But the city really poured it on with their bid last time, and it certainly seems unlikely that they’d make the same kinds of mistakes again.

I know a lot of people want Army-Navy to be a sort of college football roadshow, moving to a different site around the country every few years or so. It is, after all, the “nation’s rivalry.” I can understand the sentiment, but I don’t agree with it. We talk a lot about the value of playing a “national schedule” so as to promote the Naval Academy in different parts of the country. But it isn’t really the games themselves that promote Navy; it’s the week of media coverage leading up to the game. When Navy goes to, say, Durham to play Duke, there might be 15-20,000 people actually at the game. But there are probably 100-200,000 people who will read the area’s newspapers. And when a visiting team comes to town, that means that the paper will be writing about them for a week. That’s where the value of playing a national schedule comes in. It’s so people in North Carolina and Texas and wherever can read about Zerbin Singleton, Antron Harper & co. Local media exposure helps to tell the Naval Academy story. But the Army-Navy game draws national media attention no matter where it’s played, so there’s little to be gained by moving it. The value of shipping the game around, in terms of exposure, certainly doesn’t outweigh the costs. And while both Army and Navy have fans and graduates all over the place, it’s a much simpler process for those folks to take a trip to the game than it is to move the game to them. The 1983 game at the Rose Bowl was allegedly a financial disaster.

Those of you who enjoyed the game in Baltimore, don’t hold your breath about seeing it there again anytime soon. Then again, a lot of attitudes can change in two years.

19 thoughts on “The Future of Army-Navy

  1. Gary

    I too believe that Philly is the best site for the game and forget about anything south/west or anything other than East Coast ( I recall the Rose Bowl game and did not care for it-it completely lacked any “aura”).
    I can see every few years Baltimore (Navy) and new Giants Stadium (Army) for some kind of “home field ” give back.
    But spot on as we here have always said Army needs to start pulling its weight not just in this game but their program!
    I fear that the game will continue to diminish as the guys in my age bracket (50 and above) may be the last generation that was brought up on the game in its formidable years of the 60`s and 70`s.
    That 2.4 is a horrible rating and yes- I noticed few commercials which translated into supporters.
    Were there any beer commercials at all?
    I have mentioned this before but the game need the stage all to itself as it used to be Army Navy/USC /UCLA and now its lost among the championship games.
    When? I dont know but maybe even making it say a 4:00 game would get more attention…but any move is major due to the academys structure and thats alos what makes it hard.
    Regardless if we have to endure 1-2 win Army teams every year it wont matter when or where.
    To me particularly gauling was that this year a pathetic Army team had to revert to trash talking and cheap shotting-something we always point out proudly does not happen at this game.
    Perhaps thats what we can now expect from Stan Brock…what next? Stomping on the Navy end zone name when they beat us in 2015?
    If the media and sponsors are not willing to invest the time to support the game it will continue to die a slow death to anyone who may want to “try it out”.
    We who live for NAVY FOOTBALL but enjoy Army / Navy cannot convert too many ourselves.
    I did read that when Army finsihed their alma mater with a limp “BEAT NAVY” that some Navy players even smirked- no problem there -as we here were already laughing waithing for the “BEAT NAVY” to come out after they got their butts kicked once again!
    It was the lamest and unconvincing BEAT NAVY we have ever seen and heard!
    I think while the PJ era kept the games meaning and tradition in focus-more and more Navy has cared about beating everybody and regardless of the real old school thought- a 1 win season as long as it was against Army was a success-that thought does not prevail and being a higher ranked program (Top 25) is.
    I hope to hear the type of comments that Sovie made saying Top 25 was one of his priorities as well it should be.
    How to save Army/Navy if we cant depend on Army improving their program( really what academy recruit would go there after year in-year out butt kicks from AF and Navy)?
    Thats one that should bring some interesting ideas here and many that the academies should look into before the game heads into a “pay per view” or NFL channel type existence because CBS gets no ad support and the other channels also say- bottom line is this is all about the $$$$ and this game doesnt warrant it-tradition or not.
    After all society as we once knew it is losing more and more traditions as we speak…..
    BTW MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL NAVY FANS (oppsss–see there is another tradition we should not adhere to any more).

  2. Gary

    My apologies for putting you all through the agony of my non spell check email (it looks fugly).
    But I have the flu……….and just want to spit it out ASAP.

  3. thebirddog

    Army saying “Beat Navy” after their alma mater is a fairly recent phenomenon as far as I know. I never noticed it until the last year or two. I don’t think everyone says it.

  4. jgish92

    The low ratings are less a function of Army’s struggles and more of a function of the championship games. I think they are going to have to stick with an early kickoff so they are only competing with one other game (the ACCCG this year). I wouldn’t rule out a Friday night in the future either. It would suck but we rely on that money.

  5. thebirddog

    The championship games have been around for a while now. It’s the trend that’s the problem. Ratings were decent for the 2005 game when it looked like it was going to be competitive. Relatively speaking, anyway.

  6. gaetano01

    I was sorry to read that Baltimore was so soured by the process of bringing A/N to town. I hope that mentality doesn’t carry over to other cities’ bids.

  7. thebirddog

    I think the guy was upset that he put in so much work, only to end up with just one game. Keep in mind that the article was from 2005. There might be a different outlook now that the game has been played.

  8. 85er

    There’s been talk for years about bringing A/N back to Chicago. I say “back” b/c it was here for a 21-21 tie in 1926. (Knute Rockne attended the game to scout Navy, whom ND had scheduled for the first time the next year. Rockne’s decision to leave the Irish in the hands of an assistant may have cost him a national championship, as his team lost to Carnegie Tech, their only loss that year.) The game was a huge success – over 110,000 attended and Soldier Field was formally dedicated. (At the time, it was the largest crowd ever to see a football game.) Until the 1983 game in the Rose Bowl, this was the westernmost location of an A/N game.
    Every few years, various committees are formed to look into bringing A/N back to Chicago. The hurdle, of course, is the fact that they need to find lodging for 8,000+ mids & kaydets. Not an easy task. It’s a tough game to move away from the East Coast.

  9. It’s a shame that Baltimore may be sour on the event because I thought they did a great job of hosting. I’d prefer Philly since it’s right across the river from me, but Baltimore’s local CBS station had all the pre-game stuff on local TV, something a Philly station wouldn’t do. The venue is ok. I don’t like any of the new stadiums compared to the Vet anyways, and I think Raven’s stadium is too steep in the upper level. I remember it being more so than the Eagle’s one and in 2000 when I was in the last row of the place, it was hard watching older fans struggle to get up the steps and into their seats.

  10. AB1999

    It is tough to compete with the Championship games. I wonder if ESPN would want the Army/Navy game? I’m no nieslen rater, but a 2.4 rating is probably pretty good for cable channels. Imagine watching the College Gameday program on ESPN Saturday morning and then cutting right to the A/N game! I’m guessing that a few college football fans who were catching the talking heads discuss their late day games would probably stay tuned and watch the game.
    As for the location: Philly is the best location, but I believe moving the game to another city (maybe once every 6th year) has its merits if done properly. Instead of just the football game, send the brigade & cadets out early to hold pep rallies in the city, maybe the basketball teams could play the local college teams Friday night, some sort of demonstrations, etc. Make the trip not only a one day football game, but a few days of highlighting the academies that culminates in the crown jewel, the football game. Just a thought.

  11. Gary

    That upper level in Baltimore looks mile high and the same for the Linc and unless you get lower or club I could not see being at either of those stadiums.
    ESPN has always been an interesting thought for the game as Lee Corso is all over it but I think thats one of the most unlikely happenings due to other long standing affiliations.
    Still-its time for something to be done to make the game more attractive to the younger age gaps as it seems to me that the demographics for Army Navy would be for 45 and above (if not 50plus) and its that rowdy 18 to 30 something crowd that gets the attention and commercial sponsorship.
    We seem to be a dinosaur in search of its last food source before hitting a tar pit.

  12. Gary, I wasn’t saying they weren’t far from the field, I was remarking on the steepness of the steps up the rows. Philly’s was less steep (still not an easy climb) than Baltimore’s, but most new pro stadiums are that way. The bottom bowl of Baltimore’s is better than Philly’s, closer to the field, more intimate. As for championship games, don’t forget that there are now ACC, SEC, Big 12, MAC, Sun Belt, and Conference USA championship games in addition to the Big East and Pac-10 ending their seasons on the same day. That’s a lot of games going on. The only conference with nothing doing is the Big-10 that weekend now. It’s a matter of finding the right dancing partner who’s got nothing else to show that day (CBS or NBC).

  13. football dad dan

    I think that the idea of shifting Army-Navy to a Friday night game seems to be the best option to take to regain the “exclusive exposure” the game once commanded in the past. The key is to minimize other potentially more attractive college football competition, … and that seems to realistically “do the trick”??? —> Especially if the desire is to maintain the two week “gap” before A/N.

  14. navyfan04

    Friday night game!?!? No way, can you imagine how cold a Friday night game would be just about anywhere in early December? I was hurting in the shade in Baltimore at noon. Screw that. Not to mention that Saturday is college football day. It’s nice being able to watch some football during the week on ESPN, but Army/Navy belongs on a Saturday afternoon.

  15. What about the Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving? Correct me if I’m wrong but in the old days (pre-1990s) wasn’t it played the Saturday after Thanksgiving?

  16. 85er

    The last time the game was played on the Friday after Thanksgiving was 1983, in the Rose Bowl. (They needed a long weekend to make the whole trip worthwhile, so the brigade had Thanksgiving dinner in thousands of private homes.) Previous to that, the last time it was played on that Friday was probably in the ’70’s.
    I like the idea, but unless you make it a good deal (like Pasadina was), it might not be popular w/ the brigade.

  17. What about starting the season against Army on Labor Day weekend? Just about everyone starts the season then, but there is rarely a big game since everyone of worth is playing cupcakes or I-AA competition and the NFL season doesn’t start until the next week so the field (assuming the stay in NFL stadiums) won’t be junk for them to play on. I know that’s radical, but I’m just throwing the idea out.

  18. Gary

    How about Xgiving or the night after Thanksgiving when everyone is home and stuffed and looking for THAT GAME?
    I know the logistics are always hard for the academy but why couldnt they have the Brigade and their families all be in Philly for an all expense paid “family leave” by the City Of Philadelphia?
    After all Philly has always been our best supporting city and while ite expensive-they could handle it.
    Somehow some way we need to find a slot that allows maximum exposure and also hope at the same time Army becomes competitive (gee Army guys dont you think thats about time already?).
    Army-Navy on Thanksgiving Day what a great way for the nation to see and give thanks for the service academies?
    Ok- now I am open for all sorts of ridicule but I always enjoy what comes around and maybe its not that bad an idea (I did ok on JB didnt I?).

  19. Pingback: ARMY-NAVY GAME: ON THE MOVE « The Birddog

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