Irish, Good Again, Are Also Good for Business – New York Times

Irish, Good Again, Are Also Good for Business - New York Times

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Joe Raymond/Associated Press

Traditions like tapping the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign on the
way to the field are part of Notre Dame lore.

But what exactly?

Those who study such things, who break down ratings and merchandise
sales and opine on the landscape of college sports, believe it says a
great deal. About the power of a brand. About the role of religion.
About tradition and revenue, loyalty and interest, myth and fact.

Whether Notre Dame is relevant again, or more relevant again, or not
as relevant as before — the subject of much debate — the numbers
indicate that it matters, that millions of dollars are at stake, and
for more entities than the university and its broadcast partner, NBC.

“There’s a romance with Notre Dame,” said Neal Pilson, a former
president of CBS Sports. “It’s like all is right with the world when
Notre Dame is winning football games. Major sports franchises are like
beachfront properties; they’re not making any more of them. You can’t
just say, ‘All right, everybody, let’s get excited about Louisville.’
It doesn’t work that way.”

If Notre Dame drew millions of eyeballs to television sets before,
if it sold hats and T-shirts by the truckload, this season proved that
when the Fighting Irish win — and win and win — more casual fans
watch, more interested parties buy and more companies sponsor. The
numbers — in ratings and dollars — speak clearly to that uptick.

Notre Dame’s stature as an iconic sports franchise, on par with the
Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Lakers, held strong
even in the leaner years, which stretched for most of two decades,
from 1993 to now. The Fighting Irish maintained a stubborn independent
streak until this season, amid the tumult of conference realignment.
Notre Dame even extended its landmark television deal after a losing
season, which spoke to the power of its brand.

Still, on-field relevance lagged behind off-field significance, as
Charlie Weis replaced Tyrone Willingham, who replaced Bob Davie, who
replaced Lou Holtz, the last coach who cemented Notre Dame’s elite
reputation. (The university hired George O’Leary during that stretch,
too, but dismissed him for an inaccurate rsum.) The Fighting Irish
claim 11 national titles but none since 1988. They boast seven Heisman
Trophy winners but none since Tim Brown in 1987.

Notre Dame, then, was relevant for all the wrong reasons and
irrelevant where it mattered most.

Then came this season, golden as it has been. Linebacker Manti Te’o
emerged as a Heisman candidate. Coach Brian Kelly garnered
consideration for national honors. And Notre Dame, ranked No. 1 in the
Associated Press poll for the first time since 1993, needs only to
defeat Southern California on Saturday to secure its spot in the
national title game, a streak-snapper that once seemed more like a

Kelly, on a recent conference call, said he never studied the
history of Notre Dame football before he took over in 2010. He said he
wanted to prove that a program like his could compete for
championships and graduate its players despite strict academic
standards, that those concepts were not mutually exclusive.

This season, thus far, has provided something of a referendum.

“If there has ever been a year that validated everything, it’s
this,” said Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s athletic director.

For the Irish and everyone associated with the program, the events
of this season coalesced at a most critical time. Some thought, for
the very issue Kelly mentioned, that Notre Dame would never again
reach college football’s summit.

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Irish, Good Again, Are Also Good for Business - New York Times

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