The big-dollar battle for big-name NFL broadcasters
Yes, the recent wave of NFL announcer contracts is preposterous. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat.
The Jets and Giants have been signing free agents in the hope they will help them win games. NFL announcers do not win games, and few argue they have much to do even with winning ratings wars.
They . . . talk.
Do not get me wrong: There is no sports announcing team I like more than ESPN’s new "Monday Night Football" booth of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.
They are at the top of their craft, a 21st-century version of Pat Summerall and John Madden who have been at it as a team for two decades now.
Sports media executives always have vastly overrated how much people care about this stuff outside the echo chamber in which they and the people who work for and cover them reside.
That is even more true when it comes to studio debaters, sideline reporters and the like than game announcers. But even there, most fans are too busy watching football players to obsess on Twitter over football talkers.
And yet here we are, in the middle of an arms race that began when CBS handed Tony Romo more than $17 million annually two years ago.
Romo since has seen many viewers turn on him as what used to be a fresh approach has veered at times into goofiness.
The Romo deal begat a wave of massive deals — and more to come — most recently with ESPN luring Buck and Aikman from Fox for about $15 million and $18 million a year, respectively, according to the New York Post.
That is a lot of dough, especially for a company that had a wave of layoffs in 2020.
So, what is going on here?
First, it’s the NFL, by far the most popular show on television. Some trickle-down effect to its announcers makes sense.
Second, the arrival of Amazon on the scene for "Thursday Night Football" and a ramp-up in ESPN / ABC’s NFL portfolio has helped generate a new level of competition for elite announcers.
So there is some method to this madness.
One factor: prestige, something that has both tangible and intangible effects.
When ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, a former Cornell receiver, hosts a dinner party with friends or advertisers or sponsors, what do you think has more cool-kid value: talking about Aikman or Brian Griese?
More important, when Pitaro is talking to the NFL about a "Monday Night Football" schedule, it presumably is easier to get the league’s attention with Buck and Aikman on the roster.
Oh, and the NFL also is aware of that other expensive toy over on ESPN2 that gives Monday nights a big-time sheen, in which Peyton and Eli Manning pop in sometimes to chat about the game.
Aikman and the Manning brothers have won a total of seven Super Bowls, if you’re scoring at home.
Another factor to keep in mind: The money announcers are getting is couch-cushion change compared to rights deals with the NFL.
ESPN pays about $2.7 billion a year for the NFL, so what’s another $30 or $40 or $50 million for star voices?
This is out of the Fox playbook when it launched in 1994 and threw $8 million a year at Madden, which is more than $15 million in today’s dollars.
David Hill, the Fox executive who did the Madden deal, put it in perspective in an interview this week with Sports Business Journal.
"In reality, what are a commentator’s wages?" he said. "It’s [equivalent to] two or three Super Bowl [commercial] spots. Everything is relative.
"Never forget that the basis of sport is probably the purest of the basic economic principle of supply and demand. There are very few people who can do the job."
Fox likely will turn to former New Jersey car salesman Kevin Burkhardt to succeed Buck and pay him a fraction of what Buck will make at ESPN.
The ratings will be fine.