Had the Army-Navy Game been able to affect the composition of the College Football Playoff field, you might have seen an even higher television rating for this event. Yet, CBS will be quite happy with the numbers from this past Saturday’s edition of an American sports classic.
Ohio State is safely in the College Football Playoff, but if the selection committee had chosen to wait for Navy — a Buckeye opponent — to play Army on Dec. 13, an added layer of national interest would have visited the annual encounter between Annapolis and West Point. As it was, though, Navy’s 17-10 win over Army still gave Black Rock one of its best marks since the network regained rights to the event in 1996:
#ArmyNavy scores highest rating in 15 years with an overnight metered market rating/share of 4.5/10, up 7% from last year’s 4.2/9
— CBS Sports PR (@CBSSportsGang) December 14, 2014
You could try to overthink the issue and rack your brain for peripheral reasons why this Army-Navy Game garnered better ratings than other, closer editions of this treasured national rivalry.
For instance, you could point out that when Army and Navy played the most riveting and dramatic installment of the series in the 21st century, there was no North Carolina-Kentucky basketball game to serve as a lead-in.
In 2012, the Black Knights and Midshipmen created a captivating contest, with Army — trailing 17-13 — driving into Navy’s red zone in the final minutes of regulation. Army quarterback Trent Steelman then fumbled, sealing Navy’s latest win in the series. Steelman’s heartbreak created an unforgettable television image. If any Army-Navy clash since Navy began its 13-game winning streak in 2002 should have pulled in big numbers, it was that one.
The point is impossible to ignore: If that game in 2012 could be eclipsed in the ratings by the 2014 edition of Army-Navy, you might be led to think that since there wasn’t a North Carolina-Kentucky game on Army-Navy day in 2012, CBS didn’t have a magnet event to lead viewers into a contest with global significance.
This is rational and logical and reasonable… but it’s not the main reason why this particular Army-Navy game outdid 2012 and, for that matter, a similarly close 2011 game in which Navy clung to a six-point lead in the final 10 minutes to win, 27-21.
The main reason the 2014 version of Army-Navy scored big for CBS is that a CBS competitor helped out.
As Awful Announcing’s Joe Lucia told you a month ago, ESPN’s College GameDay chose to visit Army-Navy for the first time ever. It’s not as though this Army-Navy Game soared to a 6.0 rating or something similarly stratospheric in comparison with recent editions of Black Knights-Midshipmen, but the modest upward bump almost certainly had something to do with the stage GameDay helped provide.
One additional Saturday of Chris, Lee and Kirk gave football fans a chance to get hyped up for this particular Army-Navy reunion. The fact that GameDay didn’t have to deal with conference bias issues in this particular morning broadcast (compared to what it faced all season long) enabled some college football fans to appreciate this last regular-season broadcast on its own terms. Some of GameDay’s audience very likely watched Army-Navy with an extra degree of enthusiasm.
One final bit of perspective on the rating for this game: Army’s ability to score first — the first time since 2009 this had happened against Navy — immediately injected an extra measure of intrigue into this year’s duel between West Point and Annapolis. Army kept this game close into the fourth quarter and still had an outside chance of tying the game in the final two minutes. This game wasn’t as close as 2011 and 2012, but it was close enough to keep viewers interested, and it featured enough of a plot twist to spice up the broadcast.
In closing, College GameDay likely played a central role in giving CBS a good number for Army-Navy on Saturday. It will naturally be interesting to see what happens next year.