As For Football continues its preseason preview coverage of the 2023 season this week. If you’ve missed any of our previous articles, you can find those right here:
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (First Quarter)
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (Second Quarter)
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (Third Quarter)
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (Fourth Quarter)
Who's ready for football Saturdays to be back? pic.twitter.com/H0hRyUKVyQ— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) July 8, 2023
Army’s Appearance on NFL Network
The Sun Belt designated the NFL Network to broadcast Army’s opening road game against Louisiana-Monroe on September 2nd, and now the Black Knights’ opener finally has a home on TV. Despite the League’s brand name, though, an NFL Network appearance may not benefit the Black Knights as much as one might hope. Would Army benefit more from having ESPN+ air this game? Alas, the NFL Network is not an ideal place for an Army game — for a few reasons.
Something felt off when the Sun Belt and ESPN initially skipped ULM-Army during televised game selection in late May. ESPN+ seemed to consider this a “throwaway” game since Army and ULM did not receive a TV network designation for more than a month after networks initially chose their games for the season’s first three weeks. Presumably, CBS Sports would have broadcast the game if they could’ve gotten it, but the NFL Network appears to have wanted this game, and in the end, they got it.
The NFL Network may appear prestigious, but recent trends in cable television diminish its status in sports broadcasting. Worse, Amazon Prime’s control of Thursday Night Football significantly reduced the Network’s live game slate. Apart from the international games, which air at nearly unwatchable times on the West Coast, the NFL Network only broadcasts a Christmas Eve game and a December Saturday tripleheader. Consequently, football fans find it less necessary to subscribe to cable or YouTube TV/Hulu Live TV to access the NFL Network. The Network offers plenty of football-related content, but they don’t actually have a lot of actual football.
𝗦𝗕𝗖 𝘅 𝗡𝗙𝗟.— Sun Belt (@SunBelt) July 6, 2023
Pair of @SunBeltFB games—Army at @ULM_FB & @JMUFootball at @TroyTrojansFB—to air on @nflnetwork. The conference was represented on all 14 @NFL playoff rosters a year ago & produced a conference-record 9 @NFLDraft picks. ☀️🏈
📰 » https://t.co/HXawZjrE54 pic.twitter.com/pJTjGOuE6W
This means that overall viewership might be a problem. Do you remember the epic duel between SMU and Houston last year? When they broke the record for the most points in a regulation FBS game with 140 overall? No, you probably don’t. Sportsmediawatch.com shows that this game’s viewership numbers reached such low figures that the site did not even list either exact viewership numbers or overall Nielsen rating. Unfortunately, this was true for most recent NFL Network games. Of the 20 FBS games aired on the NFL Network in 2019 and 2022, respectively, only three garnered more than 100,000 viewers — 2019 UTSA-Army, 2022 Marshall-Bowling Green, and 2022 James Madison-Arkansas State.
Despite the power of its brand name, the NFL Network has become an awkward place to watch college football.
Still, it’s easy to see why the NFL Network wants Army. In addition to the Black Knights’ large national fanbase, most Army fans presumably also already get the NFL Network in the same Sports Pack that they get CBS Sports Network. Having ULM-Army on the NFL Network benefits the Network more than it would benefit a separate subscription service like ESPN+.
However, if Army aims to maintain its national brand status among the Group of Five, a game on the NFL Network doesn’t help a whole lot. As more fans continue to cut the cord, having ESPN+ to cover a variety of Group of Five programs and the FCS is an excellent alternative to cable/YouTube TV/Hulu Live TV. The Army diehards will always be there, but opportunities to attract new fans are invaluable, especially in a year like this when CBS passed on airing Army-Air Force on its primary network.
Still, though the NFL Network may not be the most attractive television spot, it serves Army fans reasonably well. The Network tends to have better football analysis than ESPN, and as noted, most Army fans probably already have it alongside CBS Sports. However, if the program itself wants to continue growing its brand and recruiting as media evolves, ESPN+ has arguably better upside broadcasting games like this year’s season opener, which are outside the primary package broadcast by CBS Sports.
Cover image via USMA Flickr.