When Don Orsillo signed what would be his final contract with NESN in November 2011, Sean McGrail, then and still the network’s president and chief executive officer, offered heady and accurate praise via a press release confirming the news:
“Don is one of the preeminent play-by-play announcers in the league and one of the reasons NESN’s Red Sox broadcast is considered among the best in the business. He brings passion and meticulous preparation to his work every night, along with a sense of humor that has endeared him to Red Sox Nation.”
The irony of that statement is hard to miss today. NESN’s reasons for retaining him four years ago are the exact same reasons so many fans are outraged that he’s being dumped — thus far without explanation — at the end of this season.
Red Sox fans and NESN viewers have reacted to Tuesday’s news that Orsillo will not be back next year with a relentless outpouring of support. As of early Thursday evening, a change.org petition asking Red Sox owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe) to restore Orsillo to the role he held since 2001 had nearly 37,000 signatures.
At the e-mail address of your faithful sports media columnist, the response has been overwhelming and without a lull since the much-rumored news broke on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” show, and the message is virtually the same in each piece of correspondence:
“Why would NESN do this? It makes no sense. If they don’t bring him back, I might be done watching NESN.”
For now, NESN’s approach to the backlash seems to be to wait out the storm and hope it all blows over. Multiple requests to Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and NESN spokesman Gary Roy have gone unanswered. Other than a press release confirming the decision and emphasizing the talents of Dave O’Brien, who is moving over from WEEI’s Red Sox broadcasts next year, NESN has gone into full radio-silence mode.
The approach — confirming the news in the middle of a game that Orsillo was calling — was awkward and insulting, and it does no favors for O’Brien, an outstanding broadcaster who has been put in an uncomfortable position. (According to an industry source, O’Brien has decided to refrain from commenting on the situation for the time being out of respect for Orsillo.)
The optics were awful. It’s understandable to some degree if NESN was caught off-guard that the news got out. Yet it was common knowledge that Orsillo’s contract was up at season’s end, and there’s been industry chatter for at least a year that the network was considering a change.
But it’s not the question of “why now?” that has led to so much backlash.
It’s the simpler question that remains unanswered: Why do it at all?
ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes received the closest thing I’ve seen to an explanation when he cited a source Wednesday saying this: “We wanted to make a change.”
Well, obviously, but Orsillo’s fans aren’t about to relent in their demand for more detail. Here’s how I posed the question to a NESN spokesman in an e-mail:
“One question I still have — and I’ve been hearing over and over from Red Sox fans — is why was the change made? Obviously it’s NESN’s prerogative to do so, and his contract was up, but I figured I’d at least reach out and see if someone there cared to explain it further. O’Brien will be great, but the timing and seemingly callous treatment of Don has people puzzled.”
The response thus far is no response at all. Another irony in all of this is that NESN is entirely responsible for creating the backlash, and not just because of the graceless manner in which the situation has been handled publicly. If the network didn’t entirely create Orsillo and Jerry Remy’s cult of personality, it certainly was happy to emphasize it.
When you consider Orsillo’s most memorable moments in the Red Sox booth, it’s not the calls of big games and big moments that come immediately to mind (mostly because NESN cedes playoff and World Series games to the networks), but the silly moments and often hilarious banter with Remy. Orsillo isn’t just familiar and comfortable to Red Sox fans. It’s more than that. So many laughs have been shared through the years that it feels personal, as if you’re saying goodbye to a friend you wish would stay a little longer.
Barring a highly unlikely reversal of the decision — a reaction to the backlash that would be more shocking than the decision itself — Orsillo’s days and nights as the voice of the Red Sox are dwindling. Thirty-four games remain in the season.
Four years ago, when Orsillo signed what would be his final contract with the Red Sox, the press release touted that he’d called more than 1,400 regular-season games on NESN. Four years later, that number must be in the range of 2,000, a milestone that under most circumstances would be worthy of celebration.
But because of NESN’s bewildering mishandling of the situation, this is no ordinary circumstance. Instead of appreciating all the games Don Orsillo has called, his fans are left wondering, without an answer, why there will be just a few more to enjoy before he’s gone.
Credit to the Boston Globe where this story was originally published
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
NBC Officially Unveils Noah Eagle, Todd Blackledge as New Big Ten Booth
“With their collective college football experience and great enthusiasm for the game, Todd, Noah and Kathryn join a production team that can’t wait to kick off the Big Ten season.”
NBC made the announcement Thursday, after weeks of speculation about the moves.
“We are excited to showcase Big Ten Saturday Night on the NBC Sports’ primetime marquee,” said NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood. “When you hear Todd’s voice, you know it’s a big college football game. It has been that way for decades.
“Noah is one of the industry’s rising young play-by-play commentators, who has excelled calling numerous sports across multiple platforms for a wide range of audiences. We are thrilled to pair him in the booth with Todd.
“Kathryn has told the stories of so many memorable Notre Dame Football moments over the last decade in her on-field reporting and interviews,” Flood continued. “With their collective college football experience and great enthusiasm for the game, Todd, Noah and Kathryn join a production team that can’t wait to kick off the Big Ten season.”
Blackledge joins NBC after working as a college football analyst for the network for the past 17 seasons. Previously, he was the an analyst for CBS and ABC, making 2023 his 30th consecutive season covering college football as an analyst.
Eagle is the son of broadcasting legend Ian Eagle, and currently serves as the radio voice of the Los Angeles Clippers. He comes to NBC after calling college football games for FOX Sports in 2022.
Tappen has spent the past nine seasons working NBC’s college football coverage with Notre Dame. Eight of those nine seasons were spent as the network’s sideline reporter before anchoring the studio coverage from South Bend in 2022.
2023 will mark the beginning of a seven-year contract for NBC to air Big Ten football games in primetime. The move is one of the biggest notable expansions in the college football arena for the network since its partnership with Notre Dame began in 1991.
CBS Tried ‘Intervention’ With Tony Romo
“They knew, they anticipated this. That’s a credit to them, the people in charge there. But it has not gotten better.”
After his performance during the 2022 season, many have questioned why CBS Sports NFL analyst Tony Romo has seemed off his game after seeing high praise during the early stages of his broadcasting career.
A recent nugget from Andrew Marchand of The New York Post claims CBS executives attempted an “intervention” with Romo before the season.
“Tony Romo needs to study more,” Marchand said during The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. “He needs to be better prepared. As you move away from the sidelines, you need to do more work. I know CBS is aware of this. They tried an intervention last offseason. They knew, they anticipated this. That’s a credit to them, the people in charge there. But it has not gotten better.”
Marchand also argued that it appears as if Romo’s partner — Jim Nantz — is content to let the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback struggle.
“This was the narrative out of CBS when Romo was getting all of the publicity: you heard from Nantz’ side and people from CBS that Nantz was the one creating Romo,” quipped Marchand. “The issue now is, why isn’t Nantz helping Romo get to this next level?”
Romo — who signed a 10-year, $180 million contract with CBS in 2020 — addressed his critics in an interview with Jenna Lemoncelli of The New York Post, saying he’s simply trying new things.
“I mean, some changes are good, some you’re like, ‘Ah, I shouldn’t do that’. But I always trial and error a bunch and sometimes it works.”
The 42-year-old Romo appeared to push back on the insinuation that he doesn’t prepare for broadcasts like he used to during the interview.
“You’re going to fail all the time, but at the same time, you succeed because of that, as long as you think about it and try to understand how to improve and then go about the process to make that happen, which is work ethic and commitment. But you got to have a plan for it before.”
Jason Benetti: Negotiations With Chicago White Sox ‘Kind of A Pain’
“I just thought it would be easier. But just because it wasn’t easier doesn’t mean it didn’t get done.”
Jason Benetti and Steve Stone recently saw their contracts renewed by NBC Sports Chicago to team once more as the television voices of the Chicago White Sox. Benetti says the talks about a renewal weren’t without their hiccups.
In a profile with Chicago Sun-Times writer Jeff Agrest, Benetti said the talks about the situation weren’t exactly what he envisioned.
“The really good news is we got somewhere good,” Benetti said. “It was kind of a pain, really. There were some things that we had to get through that I thought were silly, and I’m sure they thought some of the stuff that I was talking about might’ve been silly. But we got there in the end.”
Agrest reported the Atlanta Braves were watching the situation with bated breath. Their television play-by-play announcer, Chip Caray, recently departed for the same position with the St. Louis Cardinals.
One of the sticking points in the negotiations between the White Sox and Benetti was how many regular season contests he would miss due to his work with FOX Sports. Benetti is announcing MLB and college football games for the network in 2023 and did his first NFL work for FOX Sports this season. Benetti admitted that were points of frustration along the way.
“I think the work has been strong and I appreciate the heck out of the fans and I have loved the Sox for all my life. I just thought it would be easier. But just because it wasn’t easier doesn’t mean it didn’t get done. Where I have put myself, totally honestly, the place I am is we got it done, and that means something. It means both sides wanted it to happen.”
Chicago White Sox Senior Vice President of Revenue and Marketing Brooks Boyer told Agrest he didn’t see any complications in the negotiations.