When Notre Dame and Alabama kickoff on Monday night in Miami shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN executives will have numbers on their minds, but it won't be ones appearing on the scoreboard at Sun Life Stadium. The key number for that suit-and-tie crowd is 35.6 million.
That figure represents the most-viewed national championship game of the BCS era, the thrill-a-second title game in Jan. 2006 when No. 2 Texas and Heisman Trophy runner-up Vince Young slipped by No. 1 USC (and Heisman Trophy winners Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart) in the Rose Bowl. The game was the perfect storm of star power and a dramatic game-winning touchdown (Young's touchdown scamper with 19 seconds remaining) and it produced the most-watched NCAA championship football game since 1991, when Nielsen records began for college football.
Notre Dame-Alabama: BCS Title Preview Hub
Will Notre Dame-Alabama top USC-Texas in total viewers? It's unlikely, but a close game late will produce a mega-audience. What can viewers expect from ESPN's coverage on Monday night? Here's a broadcast primer on the BCS National Championship Game:
Who are the key ESPN staffers for Alabama-Notre Dame?
The game broadcasters include Brent Musburger (announcer) Kirk Herbstreit (analyst) Heather Cox (sideline) and Tom Rinaldi (sideline). Musburger and Herbstreit have called six national championship games and are best in class for college football. Bill Bonnell will produce the game (his fourth national title game as the lead producer) and Derek Mobley is the game's director (Mobley has directed five national title games including Texas-USC). ESPN has roughly 500 staffers in Miami between the game broadcast, College GameDay and its 3D telecast.
What makes a national championship game different for a broadcast production crew than, say, a Saturday night SEC game?
"The whole season you go to a college stadium where there is a big college atmosphere and a huge student section, and then you come to bowl games and the student sections are not defined," Mobley said. "Students are scattered everywhere, and the stands have more corporate feel to it. So it's a challenge to draw out that college atmosphere. Plus, at Sun Life Stadium, the sideline is further away from the stands than the other bowl sites. The fans are much further away."
What will the sideline reporters be doing?
Heather Cox has been assigned to Notre Dame. Tom Rinaldi has Alabama.
How accessible are Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Alabama coach Nick Saban to the broadcasters?
"Brian Kelly is the son of an Irish politician, and no one works a room any better than Brian Kelly," said Musburger. "He loves to see you, loves to have your company in the room, and then pretends that he's telling you everything that's going to happen, and he always keeps something in the saddlebags. A very, very savvy coach. With Nick Saban, he kind of wears his emotions on his sleeve...Both are very open about practice. Both like to have announcers come to practice unlike [LSU coach]Les Miles, who kicked us out last year for 30 minutes, then let us back in. We [he and Herbstreit] looked at each other in the second half, and we said, 'Miles locked us out for this?' Both [Kelly and Saban] are very open coaches, very easy to deal with. You can reach them whenever you want to."
What will the producer and game director be thinking about at kickoff?
Flexibility on the fly. "You go through your plans over and over again and what you think is going to happen always ends up not happening," Bonnell said. "For the Texas-Alabama game [in 2010], we had no idea [Texas quarterback] Colt McCoy would be knocked out in the first series. In every championship, something happens and you just have to be flexible."
What kind of visual and audio enhancements can viewers expect?
ESPN has 39 cameras (in both 2D and 3D) for the title game including eight robotic cameras, two mounted jib cameras, multiple high-motion camera systems, and SpiderCam, which flies over the field for wide-angle shots and overhead replays. Surround microphones have been added throughout Sun Life Stadium, including microphones in the parking lot, fan areas in the end zones, the hallways outside player locker rooms, and on the SpiderCam above the field. Bonnell said ESPN management challenged his production crew to amp up the audio so the network will use 5.1 surround sound for this game.
Why is Notre Dame such a good television draw?
"Notre Dame is such a polarizing team where everybody, no matter when you grew up, you either loved Notre Dame or you just couldn't stand Notre Dame," said Herbstreit. "There are a lot of people out there that I think are going to have to make a tough decision on who to pull for, and I really believe that outside of the SEC, most people, even if they aren't big Notre Dame fans in this case, because of the six straight national titles, I think they're going to be pulling with all their hearts to see Notre Dame end that streak.
What are the second- and third-most-viewed games of the BCS era?
The 2010 BCS title game (Alabama over Texas) drew 30.8 million viewers on ABC. That's followed by the 2003 title game (Ohio State over Miami) with 29.1 million viewers on ABC. Last year's Alabama-LSU title game on ESPN averaged 24.2 million viewers, down 11 percent from the previous year.
What's your prediction for the amount of viewers tonight?
I think if the game is within 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, ESPN will hit the 30 million viewers mark. And though you didn't ask: Alabama 24, Notre Dame 17
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the weekend.)
1. Eighteen days after he was fired by the Boston Red Sox, Bobby Valentine was at NBC Sports' offices in New York City conducting the business of Bobby Valentine. He took a meeting with NBC Sports executives to discuss his sports film production company (Makuhari Media) and sat down with Bob Costas for a Costas Tonight interview in which Valentine made headlines by saying he believed designated hitter David Ortiz shut it down at the end of 2012. [Ortiz responded here.]
When his interview with Costas concluded that day, Valentine was approached by NBC Sports executive Rob Simmelkjaer who came armed with a suggestion:
How would you like to host your own radio sports-talk show?
Valentine liked the idea.
The NBC Sports Group and Dial Global will formally announce Monday that Valentine has joined the NBC Sports Radio lineup as a Major League Baseball contributor. He will call in weekly to NBC Sports affiliated stations over the next two months before co-hosting a daily sports-talk show on NBC Sports Radio starting in April. (His co-host has been picked but NBC says they will not announce the name until March.) "I think in my years here on earth, I have let people know I have an opinion about pretty much everything," Valentine told SI.com. "I think I will remain true to that."
Valentine hosted radio shows while managing in Texas and New York and is a former analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. His ties to NBC Sports go back decades. After his playing career ended in 1979, he served as an analyst on NBC's regional baseball telecasts, partnering with Costas, Joe Garagiola, and Tony Kubek.
How opinionated will Valentine be about players and coaches he either managed or coached against? "I don't know that you have to be negatively biased to inform people of what is going on, or to keep them listening," Valentine said. "I think you have to be true. If I have a fault, it's that I tell the truth. You can't dictate to the customer what they want and I think a good host feels his audience and understands what they want and need and tries to provide it."
As for returning to television, Valentine said he would see how the year played out and whether an opportunity opened up in the future. His answer was the same regarding a return to baseball in either an on-field or management capacity. "Anyone would be a fool not to be open to that," Valentine said.
Last September, as things grew miserable on the field in Boston, Valentine told WEEI-AM host Glenn Ordway that he'd "punch" him "right in the mouth" after the host suggested he had "checked out" on the season.
"I think the only time I had a problem with someone on the other side of the microphone is when they crossed over the personal line or they were totally incorrect in whatever they were representing," Valentine said of sports-talk radio spats. "I am going to try and not get personal. And I'm also going to try to be correct as often as possible."
2. ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown aired a sensational feature (spearheaded by features producer Drew Gallagher) on O.J. Brigance, a former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and the team's current senior advisor to player development. Brigance suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease), which has robbed the former player of speech and body movement. (He communicates via a high-tech device called a DynaVox.)
You can watch the piece here and I cannot recommend it highly enough. After the feature aired, Brigance's former teammate, ESPN NFL analyst, Trent Dilfer, choked up on camera as he offered thoughtful reflections on Brigance and described him as "a life-changing type of human being."
2a. Last Thursday, SI.com broke the story that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is close to signing a multi-year contract with ESPN. He is expected to have a significant role on the network's Monday Night Countdown and other ESPN platforms when the deal is signed. No deal will be announced until the conclusion of the Ravens' run in the NFL playoffs.
2b. Fantastic work by Fox Sports director Rich Russo and producer Richie Zyonz capturing the fourth-quarter injury to Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. The production gave you multiple angles of the play (hard to watch, for sure) as well as some poignant crowd shots of Redskins fans over the possibility of significant injury to their franchise player.
3. NFL Ratings: Last week all the networks that broadcast the NFL, plus the league itself, sent out press releases highlighting the viewership and ratings for the year. (It's often an exercise in spin-o-rama against competitors, regarding who has the most viewers). According to the NFL, the 2012 regular season reached 200 million unique television viewers, which represents 69 percent of potential viewers in the nation. The league also said NFL games accounted for 31 of the 32 most-watched TV shows among all programming last fall, and for the first time in history, an NFL game was the week's most-watched TV show in all 17 weeks of the season. Ratings did drop overall in total viewership of national games. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data via AdWeek, the 101 games televised nationally over the course of the 2012 campaign averaged 16.6 million total viewers, a decline of five percent from 17.5 million a year ago.
3a. The PR departments of Fox Sports and NBC Sports love to debate over which network airs the true "America's Game of The Week" (Awful Announcing gleefully covered a recent Twitter battle) here and Fox's late-afternoon Sunday window (which includes multiple games) averaged 24.8 million viewers, the network's third most-watched ever. That would top NBC's numbers, but if you rate Fox's overall viewership including its early games, the network finished at an average of 19.7 million viewers, slipping one percent from 20.096 million viewers in 2011.
NBC's Sunday Night Football ranked as the most-watched primetime program for the third consecutive fall season, averaging 21.4 million viewers. Its final broadcast of the season (Cowboys-Redskins) was the most-watched Sunday primetime game in NFL regular-season history with an average of 30.3 million viewers.
3b. CBS averaged 23.0 million viewers for its late-window games and 17.7 million viewers for its overall package. That was down four percent versus 18.4 million viewers from a year ago.
3c. The Cowboys once again remain one of the top television draws in the league; the team played in four of the 10 most-viewed games this season.
3d. Worth reading is this terrific AdWeek piece that highlights how much advertisers are paying to broadcast on NFL games.
4. The start date and number of games in the 2012-13 NHL season is still undetermined as of this writing so any analysis of the NHL television schedule will come at another time. What NBC Sports officials will say is the focus of the schedule will be on division and conference rivalries, which should give the ratings on the NBC Sports Network a bit of a jolt. The network has failed to attract any audience for its studio programming and the NHL, while not a panacea, cannot come soon enough.
4a.Denver Post NHL writer (and SI.com contributor) Adrian Dater pulled off the scoop of the weekend, breaking the news that after 113 days, including a final 16-hour day of negotiations in a hotel in New York, the NHL lockout finally ended on Sunday morning.
5. Fox debuted a new form of in-game advertising during the Cotton Bowl on Saturday night as its "double box" -- an ad that runs in a box on-screen alongside the event footage, even during timeouts and other stoppages -- aired during the first and second quarter of Texas A&M's win over Oklahoma. Sports Business Journal writer John Ourand profiled the plans here. The ads ran on screen while a second box showed live video from the stadium in a smaller box. As we've seen in soccer broadcasts, I think it's a great way to make commercials more engaging for fans. "Fox wants to test this out and advertisers want to try something that keeps viewers tuned in," Ourand said. "I think it has the potential to keep people from channel surfing during a time out."
6. NFL Pregame notes: The NFL Network offered some interesting commentary this week including analyst Michael Lombardi's prediction prior to the Texans' win over the Bengals on Saturday. "[Bengals QB] Andy Dalton has to be a great player today. He has to take that giant step forward. If not, they have to rethink the situation. I don't think he has it in him."
? Vikings running back Adrian Peterson told NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk he thought rushing for 2,500 yards "is definitely attainable. I can get it."
? Clip and save: Fox and NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said the Bills made a terrific hire in Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. Said Billick: "That's a great hire by the Bills because he brings together that pedigree that is popular now: a substantial pro background with that mix of college."
?The opener the NFL Network produced for the playoffs is sensational, thanks to the narration by the great actor Wendell Pierce, star of Treme and The Wire. Check it out here.
? I'm no fan of Michael Irvin's look-at-me commentary but I give him credit for making fun of his ridiculous look-at-me prediction that Seattle would lose its final three games and miss the playoffs.
7. ESPN opens the 2013 MLB schedule with a primetime meeting of the Rangers at Astros on March 31. The game marks the Astros' American League debut. The following day, ESPN and ESPN2 will air four MLB Opening Day games including an ESPN afternoon doubleheader -- Red Sox at Yankees followed by Giants at Dodgers. Later that night, ESPN2 will air a primetime doubleheader featuring the Phillies at Braves and Cardinals at Diamondbacks.
7a. The results of the 2013 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot will be announced live on MLB Network on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET as part of a three-hour announcement show beginning at 12 noon ET. Coverage will include interviews with electees.
8. The week's recommended writing includes a great oral history of Good Will Hunting by Boston Magazine and an exploration by The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan of impartiality and objectivity in journalism. Also recommended is this profile by SI.com's Pete Thamel of Notre Dame's Academic Services for Student Athletes staffer Adam Sargent, one of the biggest figures on the South Bend campus.
9. CBS Sports Radio announced its weekend lineup and it was good to see Jody McDonald, the terrific New York and Philadelphia-based radio host, get a national gig. McDonald will be on the air Saturday from 6-10 p.m. and Sunday (with former NFL player Kris Jenkins) from 2-6 p.m. The other weekend talent includes Vinny Cerrato/Rob Long (WJZ-FM Baltimore); Gregg Giannotti (KDKA-FM Pittsburgh); Josh Innes and Ted Johnson (Houston); John Kincade (WCNN-AM Atlanta); Amy Lawrence (formerly of ESPN Radio), Marc Malusis (WFAN-AM/FM New York), and Adam The Bull (WKRK-FM Cleveland). CBS Sports radio morning show co-host Brandon Tierney will also host a weekend show. The lineup is here.
10.Miscellaneous: The Golf Channel said it had its most-watched year in the near 18-year history of the network. According to the network, The Golf Channel programming averaged 95,000 viewers daily, an increase of six percent more than 2011 (90,000) and 36 percent more than 2010 (70,000). The channel is now in 80 million homes.
10a. The NBC Sports Network begins a four-part series on the business of the NFL, starting January 8 at 10 p.m. ET. The network says "Star Spangled Sundays" will document the rise of the NFL to become the most-popular sport in America. Given NBC is a partner of the league, it will be interesting to see how in-depth they get into NFL finances versus a slickly-produced exercise in propaganda. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL owners Robert Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones are among those interviewed.
10b. The premiere edition of Showtime's 60 Minutes Sports airs Wednesday at 10 p.m., ET/PT and will feature an interview with Barcelona star Lionel Messi. (Barcelona was featured on 60 Minutes on Sunday). The show is a new magazine program from the makers of 60 Minutes, and represents that program's first original content that will air on premium television. 60 Minutes Sports will appear monthly on Showtime.