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.