June 19, 2008

An interview with:


BRIAN WALKER: Thank you very much for joining us today. We are pleased to announce a five year extension agreement between Notre Dame and NBC Sports, from 2011 through 2015. 2015 will mark the 25th year of the partnership. The agreement calls for eight home games, including one off site home game in primetime.

On our call today are NBC Sports Chairman, Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports President, Ken Schanzer, and Notre Dame President, Father John Jenkins. I’m going to turn it over to Dick, Father Jenkins and Ken for brief comments, and then we’ll open it up for comments.

DICK EBERSOL: The announcement with our association with Notre Dame back in 1990 was one of the great moments in the history of NBC Sports. So we’re obviously thrilled to be continuing this landmark partnership with Notre Dame.

Notre Dame, unquestionably, is one of the premier brands that defines who we at NBC are things like the Olympics, the NFL, the United States Open, and Notre Dame. And now to have this, and guarantee we’ll have a partnership of at least a quarter of a century.

Brian alluded to the fact that we’ll now have eight games a year instead of what was pretty much through the prior years a six game a year arrangement. We’ll have these eight games. Even though this contract does not start until 2011, the eight games per season actually starts next year in 2009.

All of this would not be possible, in my mind, without this partnership of soon to be 25 years would not be possible without the incredible relationship that I believe Kenny Schanzer has built with the Notre Dame community going back into the ’80s.

Ken, would you like to say a few words?

KEN SCHANZER: Thanks, Dick, This is testimony to the strength and depth of NBC Sports and Notre Dame. But when we started this, since we started this, it’s always been about more than football. As Dick said, Notre Dame is the gold standard on so many levels. Not just in terms of the history of its football program, but in the elegance of the institution, and the degree to which one can rely upon the fact that the university and its representatives are always going to comport themselves in ways that make you proud to be associated with them and allow you to live in the reflected glory of that nobility.

So this is a very, very special day for me. It’s the fifth deal we’ve made with Notre Dame. As Dick said, it’s a quarter of a century, and it will stand as one of the longest relationships in NBC Sports history. My hope is that we’ll go on beyond 2015 when that day arrives.

Let me finally simply say that at the end of the day this agreement is testimony to the leadership of Father Jenkins at the university. We began negotiating the deal with Kevin White, who has gone on to Duke University, but has been a valued friend of NBC over the course of the time during which he was at Notre Dame. And we owe Kevin a debt of gratitude for his involvement in this, but equally to Father Jenkins who has been steadfast in trying to get this deal done. Father?

FR. JOHN JENKINS: Thanks very much, Ken and Dick. This is just a great day for Notre Dame. I think, first of all, our fans get to see eight games broadcast across the nation into their living rooms. And that’s wonderful for our fans.

Secondly, and it’s very important that revenues we realize in this deal go to not only support of student athletes, but students who are financially needy and will be enabled to go to Notre Dame who, otherwise, would not be able to go to Notre Dame.

This arrangement over the years has produced $26 million dollars in financial aid for non student athlete students.

Finally, we’re just delighted about a continuing partnership with a great broadcasting institution, NBC, and two of the leaders in sports broadcasting Dick Ebersol and Ken Schanzer.

As Dick and Ken mentioned, this has been a special partnership. It’s been a long term partnership. It’s been about more than just football, in a sense. It’s about two institutions joining together. So we are thrilled about this arrangement.

BRIAN WALKER: Thank you, Father Jenkins. Let’s open it up to questions.

Q. Dick or Ken, eight home games is a very disproportionate amount. How did it work out you got eight home games?

KEN SCHANZER: Really, you have to ask Notre Dame how they arranged their schedule to do that. We had always had six. When the NCAA agreed to go to 12, in most years Notre Dame went to seven. Then Kevin White began looking at ways in which they could create off site home games and have accomplished that. You’ve seen some of the announcements already. More will be forthcoming as we go forward.

But it was really a remarkable feat of scheduling. But, Father, you may be able to detail better how you arranged the schedule to do that.

FR. JOHN JENKINS: As you know, the seven home games were allowed; that’s what we had last season. And this is such a wonderful event to have NBC nationally broadcast a game. We have scheduled teams who want to play us at off site venues because it’s great for their program as for ours. That’s how we were able to schedule these eight games.

Q. Obviously the ratings were not very good last year or relatively speaking in the previous years. You have eight games, and, obviously, you want many more of them. How would you explain that?

DICK EBERSOL: Well, for starters, the Notre Dame brand is a brand that’s been sustained for decade after decade after decade. When you look at the great brands, you don’t necessarily look at year to year.

Notre Dame has had a new coaching team settling in, just really beginning a little more than a year ago, their first substantial recruiting efforts on their own. We’re big believers in how Notre Dame time and time again over all of these generations has maintained its strength. I don’t see that going away.

If you look at us, I mean, NBC has probably been number one I don’t know 18 out of the last 27 or 28 years. This year we happen to be third or fourth. It is the way of the world in the media business.

But I have such a strong feeling about the Notre Dame traditions, both academically and athletically, that I have no doubt that over the majority of the years going forward this will be a sensational deal for both sides.

Q. We know Charlie Weis has done a good job recruiting high school kids. Has he done any recruiting of you and Ken to make you guys try to, you know, realize his perspective that things are on the rise and that last year was just a blip?

DICK EBERSOL: Not really. But what I would say to Charlie is that I think his charms are best spent on dealing with 18 and 19 year old men or boys than they are being wasted on guys who are over 60.

KEN SCHANZER: Neither of whom can run very well.

Q. Just wondering, you mentioned are all of the off site games planned to be primetime? If so, are any plans under way for any of the traditional home games to be moved to primetime?

FR. JOHN JENKINS: We had a concern from the start about games on campus being at night. We just feel it’s just very disruptive for our students for the academic life of the university to have a game at night which takes up all of Saturday as well as Friday.

So NBC has always been accommodating to us on that even though their viewership increases as the game gets later. So we’ve stuck to that.

But with the off site games, they’re off campus. So it doesn’t present the problem of disrupting campus life and the academic activities on campus. In fact, it’s easier for our fans to travel. If it’s at night, they can travel during a Saturday. So this worked out well for both of us.

Again, it just shows the way NBC has accommodated us. Even though their viewership would increase later, they accommodated our concerns about on campus games. And the off site games provides an opportunity to have a primetime game broadcast by NBC.

Q. You mentioned the $26 million have gone to help fund students. The rest of the money, does that go all to football or does it go to various things around the university?

FR. JOHN JENKINS: We’ve never gone into the financial details of this, and I don’t want to now. But I will say our athletic programs across the board support our academic enterprises. Forbes Magazine estimated in a recent publication that the athletic programs give over $20 million to academic enterprises. So it’s very significant, but I’m not going to go into the details of how much here, how much there.

Q. You’re talking about the strength of the brand, and obviously, I think it’s fair to assume, last year was an anomaly. But how important is it for Notre Dame to be not just, you know, a good and consistently winning program in this more competitive than ever environment against a consistent powerhouse? Is it okay for them to be good but not great on a consistent basis?

DICK EBERSOL: I think they have to be consistent in one thing. They have to be a team that’s in the chase for the top, let’s say, 8 or 10 positions in college football every year or close to every year for it to be a wildly successful arrangement.

But in my heart of hearts, I really believe that that expectation today of any college football program that is associated with the school of the academic standards of Notre Dame is not as easy as it would have been years and years ago.

So we go into this thinking that if the vast majority of the years have Notre Dame competitive in that top 10 or for that top 10 area through the majority of the season, then we’ll be very happy.

Q. How do you approach covering Notre Dame journalistically, especially if the team’s not performing up to its historic standards?

DICK EBERSOL: I think we’ve been blessed with the various announce teams we’ve had through the years. From the very beginning, Kenny and I made it clear back in ’91 to the producers and the talent who started with it. And it’s still made clear to them that they are to deal with all of the issues and spare no punches.

As far as I know, no athletic director and I know for a fact no president at Notre Dame has ever said a word to either one of us. We have had as the analyst for more than half of this relationship now Pat Haden, who I happen to think is an unbelievable human being. But more importantly, to some people, he’s a guy who went to USC. Every other year he does the USC Notre Dame game, and he’s right down the middle for both teams. We’ve been lucky with some of the very good sideline reporters. Last year it was Alex Flanagan. It will be again this year. She did not hesitate to not only ask Charlie the tough questions, if Charlie started walking as he would want to do when he wants to get to the locker room quickly, she walked as fast as he did and threw a couple of hip checks until he answered her questions.

So I think we’ve been pretty clear for the first, almost two decades, of this relationship that our talent are under no restraints nor are our producers. And Notre Dame has been great in never putting anybody through the mill when things were tough with some coaches.

KEN SCHANZER: The proof is in the fact that in the 18 years, is it now, that we’ve done it? I don’t think you can name a column that’s ever been written questioning the way in which we’ve covered Notre Dame Football.

Q. Does Notre Dame have any input on the talent that you guys put on the broadcast for the games?

DICK EBERSOL: None whatsoever. I don’t take credit for this. As I often say, I was fortunate enough to grow up in the best environment in sports television history: Roone Arledge, Jim McKay, et cetera. And everything there, which was back in the tough era in the ’60s, to get control of the right to pick your own talent.

We, today, do not have a single relationship, not one, nor have we at any time in the 19 years that I’ve been here, that gives anybody talent rights other than the people sitting in the chairs you’re talking to today.

Q. The two off site games in 2009 and 2010, will they also be primetime games? Father Jenkins, moving beyond 2015, do you see this off site commitment as a long term commitment beyond 2015?

FR. JOHN JENKINS: I am not actually, the scheduling, I think we have the opportunity to make those primetime. Ken may know more than that about when they’re actually scheduled for it? Do you know, Ken?

KEN SCHANZER: ’09 and ’10 will be in prime.

FR. JOHN JENKINS: I’ll say about your second question; we’ll evaluate and we’ll decide when the time comes about how to move forward.

I’m excited about this arrangement. I think it has so many positives for both Notre Dame and NBC. But if that proves not to be the case, we’ll evaluate when the time comes.

Q. At the beginning of the contract these games are around 1:00, 1:30, and I know we’ve had the crazy time change thing here in Indiana. They’ve kind of drifted to 3:30 and 2:30. Is that what we’re looking at for the future in terms of kickoff times at Notre Dame stadium as this moves forward?

FR. JOHN JENKINS: Our concern was that it was in the afternoon. NBC has been very accommodating to us about that. As far as the kickoff times, as you know, the time change is a little bit crazy and erratic. We’ve tried to be accommodating on that. But I imagine that will be decided as we move forward.

DICK EBERSOL: Quite frankly, the 3:30 kickoffs are almost without exception in the early part of the season. I can’t remember a time in the last decade, maybe you can, Ken, that we’ve ever asked for a late time once daylight savings time has passed.


Q. Any thought at all to having one of the off site primetime games deal with the renewal of the Miami series? Your school and Miami made for great television with their games in the 1980s. Would you consider them at all? And Dick or Ken, have you booked any of the primetime opponents yet? And are you all going to be actively involved in creating those matchups?

FR. JOHN JENKINS: I’d just say to the first question, that is something I delegate to my athletic director. The particular teams we play at the particular times. So I just have not been engaged in those conversations, simply. I don’t know of any conversations along that line, but there may have been. I just don’t know.

Secondly, about the scheduling I would say from our point of view, we apprise NBC of what we’re thinking about and what we’re talking about. At no point have we felt any pressure from NBC to schedule this particular team or that particular team. They’ve been so respectful of us and our decision making process about who we play and when we play.

So Ken and Dick can answer that. But that’s our perspective.

DICK EBERSOL: In a nutshell, we have no input whatsoever on the games or the opponents. Notre Dame has never asked for nor have they ever been given any input on who our announcers are or what they’re going to say. It’s a perfect marriage.

Q. Any opponents picked yet for those primetime games?

DICK EBERSOL: Yes, the first two are Washington State.

KEN SCHANZER: Washington State in ’09. And San Antonio in I’m not sure it’s been formally announced. Has the game been announced in 2010 for the off site game and where it’s played?

BRIAN WALKER: We’ll get to that. I think only one of the opponents has been announced.

Q. Speaking of the off site games I know Oklahoma is playing in 2012. Is that a chance that would be considered for an off site game?

DICK EBERSOL: I don’t think so.

KEN SCHANZER: Yeah, I don’t think so either.

Q. Have you guys announced your telecast team for this season?

DICK EBERSOL: It’s unchanged. It’s Tom Hammond and Pat Haden, with Alex Flanagan on sideline.

Q. Not to obsess about ratings, but in a deal like this is it a flat fee paid to Notre Dame, or is it piled into what future ratings would be?

DICK EBERSOL: No, it’s absolutely a prearranged flat fee. I’m not aware of one involving, at this stage, either professional or college football. Everything’s just a straight rights deal; isn’t it?

KEN SCHANZER: As far as I know. As far as I know.

DICK EBERSOL: Really not the NFL and not Notre Dame. I’ve never heard anything about the Big Ten or Pac 10 that would lead me to believe they were different.

Q. You guys mentioned Kevin White’s involvement in the deal; can you go into more detail? Did he pretty much put the whole deal in place? Or was it 75% done and Father Jenkins had to finish it off? Where was it in the process when he left?

DICK EBERSOL: Father, you want to answer that?

FR. JOHN JENKINS: Ken, you correct me if I’m wrong. But I think Ken and Kevin had discussions through the winter about a possible deal. This is usually the time we talk about an extension, and that was done. Ken, I think, came up with a proposal about the time that Kevin left. Correct me if I’m wrong.

KEN SCHANZER: Yeah, that’s just about it.

FR. JOHN JENKINS: Yeah, and we took it over, myself, and John Affleck Graves, our Executive Vice President, and members of the Athletic Department, and we took it over. There were some final discussions. We reached a resolution pretty quickly, and the deal was done.

DICK EBERSOL: I want to stress that this is a partnership between two organizations, not just specific men. I fully suspect that here in 2012 or late 2012 or 2013, there will be a different leader of NBC Sports making an announcement for their relationships continuing with Notre Dame. I believe in this whole process haven’t there been three different Athletic Directors at Notre Dame?


DICK EBERSOL: This is not as much as we are all enormous fans of Kevin’s and are really excited for his possibilities at Duke. This deal is between two organizations.

KEN SCHANZER: It’s the three athletic directors with who we’ve made arrangements.

FR. JOHN JENKINS: Yeah, I would just add to that that I echo what Dick said. I think Kevin’s been instrumental in moving things forward. He’s been instrumental in so many things at Notre Dame athletics.

But the strength of this deal really is about two institutions. I think what we appreciated so much is NBC’s respect of Notre Dame as an institution. It’s not a short term deal. It’s not a deal with a particular individual. It’s a deal with an institution. That’s what makes it so enduring for a quarter of a century we’re looking at.

Q. Father, you kind of talked about athletic directors. How much input is the next athletic director going to have in the next contract decision? And also, is it important for you as you now hire an athletic director to find somebody that has some sort of contract negotiations maybe with networks or something like that as your next hire?

FR. JOHN JENKINS: Well, that would be a dimension of the work. The fact that we’ve concluded this deal that will go to 2015 makes it not as pressing an issue.

I think what’s most important is that the athletic director understands Notre Dame Football. Understands what it’s about, and is able to carry that tradition forward. That’s what I believe NBC is interested in.

So, if the athletic director can do that, I think the relationship with NBC will take care of itself. It has for nearly 20 years. I think it will for 25 and beyond.

BRIAN WALKER: I’d like to thank everyone for joining us today.

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