From left, Kirk Herbstreit, Al Michaels and Roger Goodell speak...

From left, Kirk Herbstreit, Al Michaels and Roger Goodell speak on stage during Amazon Presentation At 2022 IAB NewFronts on May 2 in New York City. Credit: Getty Images for Amazon/Michael Loccisano

The NFL is the most popular show on television – by a wide margin – and that will not change in 2022. But the cast of characters, and the way in which people will watch them, underwent seismic changes in the offseason.

Much of the attention focused on a game of announcer musical chairs that made some play-by-play men and analysts extremely wealthy and affected every network’s No. 1 booth other than CBS’.

But the most fundamental change is the one on Thursday nights, where Amazon Prime Video will become the first streaming service to carry an exclusive national package of games.

As has always been the case for games shown on cable outlets, the NFL will require that these be available on a local broadcast channel in the markets of the two teams involved. But other than that, it’s streaming or nothing.

(Prime Video did strike a deal with DirecTV to show games in bars, restaurants and other public venues.)

On one hand, Amazon will be able to offer viewers more than a traditional TV outlet with alternate feeds, highlights on demand, stats and the like. But its core strategy with the main telecast is not to shock or upset fans with a radical new approach.

Hence the hiring of Al Michaels, a 77-year-old pillar of NFL play-by-play men, longtime ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit and executive producer Fred Gaudelli, a veteran of both “Monday Night Football” and “Sunday Night Football.”

“I think the quality of the game coverage, and obviously the announcing, is going to be as good as there is in the NFL,” Gaudelli said on a recent video news conference during which he wore a green C.W. Post T-shirt. (He is a 1982 alumnus.) “That's my goal, that's why I'm here, and that's what we intend to do.”

Said Michaels, “I find it to be exciting in the sense that all of my friends and my kids and my grandkids all think this is about the coolest thing in the world.

“So even though it's a different platform, the one thing I think you can count on is that we are not going to reinvent the wheel. We're going to do the games. People are going to tune in to watch the games, and we're not going to do anything that's crazy.”

Michaels still will call some games for NBC, but when his contract there expired he ceded his spot in the Sunday night booth to Mike Tirico, who will work with analyst Cris Collinsworth.

Fox, meanwhile, will go with Kevin Burkhardt, a former SNY Mets reporter, and analyst Greg Olsen, who is keeping that seat warm until Tom Brady retires (again). They will call this season’s Super Bowl for Fox.

Fox’s booth opened up when its longtime lead announcing team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman moved to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” Aikman when his contract was up and Buck when Fox let him out of his a year early.

Only CBS’ No. 1 team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo – whose 2020 contract to re-sign with CBS started the recent wave of mega-deals for announcers – remains intact among the major networks’ lead teams.

So in one sense, everything is different. But in another sense nothing is, given the familiar voices that have been mixed and matched.

Herbstreit figures to have the biggest learning curve, in that college long has been his focus, and he will continue to be part of the lead college booth for ABC/ESPN on Saturdays.

“I’m just going to have to figure it out,” he said. “I've got an idea, but I need to get into a routine. I'll do a couple college football weeks, [Sept. 3] and the 10th, before we get going [on Prime Video] on the 15th, so that'll kind of get me going.”

Amazon reportedly is paying at least $1 billion a season for its 11-year deal with the NFL and will use its massive reach with consumers to promote the fact it is carrying the Thursday games.

It figures to benefit from a season in which Major League Baseball introduced many fans to the concept of live streaming through its national deals with Apple and Peacock and the Yankees’ local deal with Amazon.

Many baseball fans have not been happy with any of that, but it is part of a disruptive transition period in sports media that will take another big step on Thursday nights this autumn.

“It's fun, it's exciting,” Michaels said. “I said to somebody, ‘They think we're coming over the Rockies in a covered wagon.’ I said, ‘We're coming over the Rockies in broadband.’ So we are the pioneers.”

GAME OF MUSICAL BOOTHS

It was an offseason full of changes in the top NFL announcing teams at major networks. Here is the 2022 lineup for play-by-play, analysts and sideline reporters:

CBS: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson

NBC: Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth, Melissa Stark

Fox: Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen, Erin Andrews/Tom Rinaldi

ESPN: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Lisa Salters

Amazon: Al Michaels, Kirk Herbstreit, Kaylee Hartung

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