Bidding wars for announcers becoming football's dumbest arms race
It’s always amused me that of the litany of late-20th Century people, places and events Billy Joel rattles off in “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” it’s the Cola Wars that finally send him overboard.
“I can’t take it anymore!” he screams after referencing the 1980s advertising battle Coke and Pepsi waged for American hearts, minds and diabetes.
A bit of overdramatic reaction. Or so I always thought. But now it seems we’ve entered our own version of the Cola Wars.
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Welcome to the QB Wars, where TV networks are prepared to spend preposterous amounts of money for in-game football analysis.
Brady joins Brees in lining up a job
One thing is very clear about Tom Brady: The man does not enjoy spending time at home. Though I guess at some level it’s comforting to know a guy in an opulent mansion can find being home as annoying as someone living in a studio apartment.
Brady, who retired for all of 41 days before returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, already has his next gig lined up. He will become Fox Sports’ No. 1 broadcast analyst for a reported $375 million over 10 years. Effective date: whenever he decides to stop playing quarterback.
One wonders if it is enough money for Michigan to skew the stats over how much an average graduate earns in the course of a lifetime.
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That salary, somewhat astoundingly, adds up to more than Brady has made over the course of his 22-year NFL career ($333 million.)
Brady is eventually replacing Troy Aikman, who must be kicking himself after only taking a reported $90 million over 5 years from ESPN to call Monday Night Football.
Brady is not the first Super Bowl-winning former Big Ten quarterback to find a home in the broadcast booth before proving what he can do in it. Drew Brees inked a $6 million per year deal with NBC before his Saints career was over.
Why a former Purdue quarterback was deemed an ideal voice of Notre Dame football is anybody’s guess. TV executives don’t appear to have a great deal of intellectual depth, as the rationale for their decisions seems to be “Hey, look at what they’re doing over there!”
Aikman worked well with Joe Buck at Fox, so a CBS exec gets the notion that former Cowboys quarterbacks must be pretty good at this gig. Tony Romo is hired almost immediately after retirement and becomes a massive success.
Other network executives see how well Romo worked out and decide “Well, we need to get a big-name QB of our own before he retires!”
So NBC hires Brees and Fox hires Brady on leaps of faith.
Brees remains a work in progress. There’s no questioning his acumen, but his analysis often feels wooden and cliché-ridden. It seems impossible that the guy who fired up the Saints huddle every week is really that dull.
Romo is effective because he holds nothing back. Yes, his analysis is usually spot-on. But he literally seems incapable of controlling his emotions, and that resonates with fans.
Brady certainly seems capable of being a great presence in the booth. His freedom from the Patriots has revealed a sly sense of humor.
But even if Brady is great in the booth, it’s hard to imagine he’ll add enough value to legitimately justify his price tag.
An inexplicable marketplace
If NFL broadcasters were legitimately in competition with each other, this bidding war might make sense.
But they aren’t. So it doesn’t.
The number of fans who will tune in to Fox’s Game of the Week because Brady is on the mic will be marginal. They’re watching because it’s the best game in the NFL that afternoon. A random game featuring the last-place team in the AFC West is the only competition.
Likewise, people don’t turn on CBS because Romo is good at what he does. They turn on CBS because Patrick Mahomes is good at what he does. The late, great Gilbert Gottfried could have screeched Chiefs games alongside Jim Nantz the past 5 years and people still would have tuned in.
It’s no skin off my nose for these guys to make crazy money doing something they love. We all aspire to it.
But there’s so little for the networks to gain from these investments when the audience is already there. It seems inevitable 50-100 other people will get laid off at some point because someone thought it necessary to pay Tom Brady quadruple what any other announcer was making. To those people, the investment might matter.
It actually might make sense for college football
The NFL protects its broadcast partners.
Thursday Night Football will be the exclusive domain of Amazon moving forward. Monday Night Football and Sunday Night Football have always stood alone. CBS and Fox alternate late-afternoon games of the week.
It’s not a legitimate competition for broadcast talent since everyone gets the same portion of pie.
At the college level, overbidding for announcers might actually make some sense. Games are running from noon-midnight on a variety of networks. Having the biggest name in the booth would signify that your game is the most important being broadcast in that particular window.
ESPN/ABC does a good job of this by making a point of where it will send Kirk Herbstreit on a given Saturday night. But networks could do the same thing in every broadcast window. There is actual competition for a viewing audience on Saturdays.
Eventually, some network will figure that out. And the others will dutifully follow.