In considering topics to discuss this week, I could have delved into the complicated saga of Phil Mickelson, who has lost most of his sponsors, and has been excoriated by critics of his attempt to break away from the PGA Tour in favor of a super-league promoted by Saudi Arabian interests.
I could have jumped into the labor dispute that has delayed, if not ruined the Major League Baseball season.
A lockout by the owners which is so ill-timed when you think of what sports followers went through with the pandemic a short two years ago.
Baseball needs the fans more than the fans need baseball.
But I’ve elected to focus on the crazy goings-on involving my business: The broadcasting carousel of the top network TV announcers.
Frankly, it all started when CBS paid Tony Romo $17 million when he jumped into the lead booth with Jim Nantz three years ago and took the expert-analyst role by storm.
Romo presented a fresh approach, looking ahead instead of behind in talking the game.
Football experts have tended to discuss what has already happened, using replays to break it all down.
Baseball, for instance, has always looked ahead.
Will the batter bunt? Is a hit-and-run in order? How will the pitcher deal with a certain hitter?
Of course, in today’s baseball, those questions rarely come up anymore.
It’s swing for the fences or strike out. Throw as hard as you can.
But Tony Romo started to look ahead on his NFL broadcasts and, predicting what play might work before it was run.
Giving viewers a sense of anticipation.
He wasn’t always on the money, but it didn’t matter.
He gave the audience something to think about.
I believe Romo has slipped somewhat from his spectacular beginning.
He talks too much now, and his constant hype blurs his analysis.
It’s not easy to sustain excellence in sports broadcasting.
John Madden did it better than anyone ever has.
I think Troy Aikman does as well.
Not as colorful and inventive as Madden, Troy is consistent, rarely annoying, and extremely well-prepared for whatever comes up. I know this for a fact.
I broke him in when he joined Fox Sports, and pretty quickly was earmarked for major success.
He succeeded the great Pat Summerall as Fox’ lead NFL analyst in 2002.
Aikman, the former three-time Super Bowl quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, and his play-by-play partner Joe Buck are second to Summerall and Madden in longevity in calling the top game, including Super Bowl broadcasts.
More on Buck later.
Despite his solid standing at Fox, Aikman sees Romo with his huge contract, and rightly feels he should be right there with him.
Networks establish the salary bar, and create precisely what is transpiring in the business.
With his contract with Fox ending, Aikman has received substantial offers from Amazon, which will stream Thursday night football starting next season, and ESPN, which produces Monday Night Football and will be in the Super Bowl mix with Fox, CBS, and NBC.
Amazon, wanting to make a big splash, prepared huge offers to Troy, and Al Michaels, arguably, the finest play-by-play man in the business.
Michaels is being replaced by Mike Tirico at NBC, which handles Sunday Night Football.
Tirico is 20 years younger than Michaels, thus the move by NBC.
Personally, I can’t see replacing the best ever, regardless of age.
But it’s a fact, Michaels future is limited. He’s 77.
Michaels, wooed by Amazon, contacted Aikman to be his partner.
But Aikman saw the bigger opportunity with ESPN, with its prime time schedule and Super Bowl.
The games on Thursday night wouldn’t be as attractive.
ESPN then looked to Joe Buck, who has one year remaining on his deal.
Buck, who is also the voice of Fox’ MLB slate including the World Series every year, might be an unhappy camper if he wanted to bolt and Fox demanded he stay.
Networks don’t think forcing top announcers to be in a lame-duck situation is wise.
So Buck has a decision to make.
Will he join his long-time partner and good friend at ESPN, or will he stay where he is?
There may be two considerations here.
Joe started out as a baseball broadcaster, just as his father, the legendary Jack Buck did.
Would Joe turn his back on the World Series?
More important, perhaps he is thinking whether his father would abandon the company that gave him his chance when he was in his 20’s?
I’m a Joe Buck fan, he used to rankle some viewers, but that is natural when you consider how much he is heard on the major events.
He is flawless, in my opinion, in what he does.
So, what happens with Al Michaels?
If Buck stays at Fox, Al jumps in with Troy at ESPN.
If not, Michaels would go to Amazon, maybe with college commentator, Kirk Herbstreit.
He would have his long-time producer, Fred Gaudelli, who has had a strong connection with Michaels.
The one lingering aspect to this free-for-all is that we’re talking about announcers of football games.
I was one, of course. And the truth we all were aware, was that viewers never tune into the broadcasters.
They tune into a game. That’s the attraction.
Most of the time, fans don’t even know who the announcers will be. Even when John Madden was on the air, viewers didn’t know he would be calling the game. The one exception would be a championship or Super Bowl contest.
By then, the audience was hooked into the matchup.
There’s no question, competency is a must, and then some, considering the enormity of the battle.
But it’s not like tuning into a local or network news favorite or a host of a show, or a performer you know will be on.
Yet the networks throw bundles of cash at the callers of the contest.
It’s show business.
The final pieces of the puzzle would affect Fox.
Who would take over for Aikman?
And if Buck followed, who would replace him?
It could be Sean Payton who stepped down as the Head coach of the Saints in a surprise move.
Payton, at 58, May be ready for a change in his life’s direction. He could try it and see how it goes.
Kevin Burkhart, the current #2 man could move up.
How about the fact that Fox has two of the next three Super Bowls.
Sean Payton would be jumping right into the fire.
But so did Romo at CBS.
And he worked his way up to the stratosphere in money.
Isn’t this how all of this started?
The center of it all is Aikman.
When we first worked together, we were in Philadelphia where a pre-season game was called off because the field was deemed unplayable.
With Troy and Darryl
Troy suggested we look at a tape of another game and practice.
I thought it better to go back to the hotel and have a cocktail and relax.
Aikman was okay with that.
The former QB great doesn’t need any more opportunities to practice.
He’s been a long-time winner. Now he will get to earn the big, big contract.
It’s been a wild ride as far as the off-season adventures of the network voices.
Where it stops, nobody knows.