Mar 25, 2022 - Sports

The golden age of NFL broadcasting

Illustration of a microphone on top of a stack of dollars.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

NFL announcers have more leverage than ever — and are cashing in big time — thanks to increased competition for their services.

Driving the news: ESPN ("Monday Night Football") and new entrant Amazon ("Thursday Night Football") signed broadcasting teams to huge deals this month, reshaping the landscape entirely.

  • ESPN lured both Troy Aikman (5 years, $90M) and Joe Buck (5 years, $75M) away from Fox. Buck will work alongside with his wife, Michelle Beisner-Buck, a "Monday Night Football" field reporter.
  • Amazon's new coverage will be led by Al Michaels (3 years, ~$45M), who left his longtime post at NBC, and Kirk Herbstreit (at least $10M annually), who will also still cover college football at ESPN.

Elsewhere:

  • CBS' coverage is still led by Tony Romo, who signed the first of these megadeals in 2020 (10 years, $180M), and Jim Nantz, who re-upped last March for ~$10.5M annually.
  • NBC's "Sunday Night Football" retained Cris Collinsworth (~$12.5M annually) and will see Mike Tirico (~$10M annually) slide into Michaels' old spot.
  • That leaves Fox as the odd man out. The network will likely move its former "B team" of Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen into the top slot, according to NY Post's Andrew Marchand.

The big picture: This is reminiscent of the free agency we see on the field. Just like star QBs, the best announcers understand their value over replacements, empowering them to push for what they're worth.

  • Aikman's old Fox deal included a clause that would allow him to leave if a "bigger and better" deal presented itself, Marchand reports. That foresight paid off.
  • Peyton Manning could have worked anywhere, but he turned down several offers until ESPN let him produce his own MNF show — the Manningcast — with his brother.
  • There are even trades in the broadcasting world. Fox swapped Buck (let out of his contract one year early) in exchange for this fall's Penn State-Purdue game, originally slated for ESPN.

The big picture: This was all made possible by three key factors: the NFL's TV dominance (75 of the 100 most-watched shows), the addition of Amazon, and the lasting impact of Romo's market-shifting deal.

  • Amazon may be just one more competitor, but that's more than enough to make an impact.
  • "If you got one person who wants you, you get a job," John Madden once told a friend. "If you got two people ... you get a great deal. And if you have three or more, you get a bonanza."

What to watch: ESPN2's Manningcast had an excellent first year, but with the company investing so much into its primary broadcast, where does that leave the alternate feed going forward?

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