Fox might be cutting down on payroll; 3 play-by-play decisions undecided, Fox, ESPN and Amazon


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In his Monday column last week, Peter King cited a source saying that Amazon has “settled” on Kirk Herbstreit for its Thursday Night telecasts. Note the word of the use “Settled.” It is not a raving endorsement for talkative Herbie. He gets under the skin of many. When he worked on ESPN with Brent Musburger, I thought Mus would punch him out once or twice. Will we now be forced to listen to him on the Thursday nights? And by the way, what came of Hanna Storm and Andrea Kremer? Now it appears that Amazon is dumping  the two unceremoniously?

ESPN has done some wonderful things for sports through the years, starting with its birth in 1979. In its nascent years, Chris Berman fashioned a popular style, one that over time became commonplace and hackneyed. But at least at the start was somewhat interesting and filled needed ESPN air-time. He’d imitate Red Barber and Howard Cosell but rarely if ever in the forty years since has he he freshened his lines. Berman’s act is the same old one. Younger people today likely know nothing about Barber or Cosell, prominent decades ago.

Football is still very much the subject of sports TV conversation. Three key NFL jobs are still open. ESPN will hire a new play-by-player. Last year, Steve Levy proved he deserved a big league network job, after finishing his second year of MNF. The analysts, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick, were so-so. Neither had a distinct sound. Levy always had to play mental bookkeeping in a three man booth to distinguish between the trio. So, it’s here today and gone tomorrow. What a world. No explanations. Sometimes there are no reasons for anything. Steve had to deal with a crowded three-man booth that most voices loathe.

On CBS’ presser leading into the conference’s tournaments, I asked Jim Nantz about the challenges of having three announcers for hoops. Remember that the three voices have to be economical and efficient. in and out in a heartbeat. No idle chatting unless there’s a romp. No pontificating.

Jim has to anticipate when to pinpoint and why. He’ll ask Bill Raftery a question and when to lead Grant Hill. They work symbiotically. Jim’s a play-by-player, a storyteller and a commander holding a megaphone. He’s that good. In Jim’s day the best storytellers were Dick Enberg and Curt Gowdy. Throw Lindsey Nelson in for good measure. They were raconteurs ever.

The rumblings are that Fox’ Joe Buck might follow Troy Aikman to ESPN. The two were partners for years on Fox but Joe has a year left on his Fox contract. Should Joe be released from his obligation and should ESPN have the financial appetite, to hire Michaels, he would join Greg Olsen who’s taking Aikman’s spot on Fox. One agent told me this week, “If you’re Fox and it’s paying Aikman $19 million, why wouldn’t you pay Olsen $3-4 million?”

But importantly, Fox is not the same sized company that it was before some selloffs. As such, it doesn’t have the budgets it once it had either. Michaels would likely demand a lot too, but the circumstances could be different. There are so many permutations and a lot of guess work too.”

Al Michaels – Arizona State

When Aikman wanted a boat load of money to renew with Fox, the company set its limit and held firm. Fox has the Super Bowl in Arizona next year. With a move to ESPN, Joe wouldn’t get the big 2023 call. So yes, Buck will have lots to give up. Another potential candidate who’s on the ‘Fox lot’ is Kevin Burkhardt who for my money is better than Mike Tirico at NBC and their responsibilities are similar, game and studio

So there are potentially three play-by-play job openings, Fox’ Buck move to ESPN, Michaels to Fox and someone relatively inexpensive to partner with Kirk Herbstreit on Thursday nights. There are always tentacles and dominoes to these deals. If Joe leaves Fox he also gives up baseball.

So You’d then think and hope that Fox would reach out to Bob Costas, the most knowledgeable, curious and articulate journalist in sports broadcast history. Baseball is his life.

Apparently, Herbstreit is able to work for both ESPN and Amazon. But then there’s a question about Herbie’s future on ESPN. Will there be another one? Todd Blackledge is better than Herbie is anyhow. Todd says less in 5 words than Herbie says in a hundred.

MNF and Thursday Night Football, the two worst of the five NFL regular season broadcast strips, are at the bottom of the cylinder. With announcer openings, they’re both getting more attention now than they did during the fall.

Things keep changing in Bristol:

2015                     Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden

2016                     Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden

2017                     Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden

2018                     Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland

2019                     Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland

2020                     Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick,

2021                     Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick

 2022                    Troy Aikman plus a fresh play-by-player

If you’re counting, that’s 12 voices through 8 fall seasons. Michaels had done MNF for ABC from 1986 through 2005. Mike Tirico then, now returns officially this fall.

David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
2 years ago

Something to ponder: If Buck goes to ESPN and Michaels to Fox, does Michaels say, I want to do baseball again? He used to claim it was his favorite sport. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for him to do, say, one season, at least? I think of Dr. Enberg “retiring” to the Padres–I got Padres telecasts where I live, and it was a slice of heaven. It’s interesting that Vin Scully was in a three-man booth on CBS with George Allen and Jim Brown, and it didn’t really work. Pat Summerall would have been fine in a three-man booth doing play-by-play,… Read more »