With the NFL’s release of its 2020 schedule, we are optimistic that a season will follow along with it, meaning a kickoff to the season on September 10 and a Super Bowl on February 7, 2021. But circle one date in your calendar, Monday September 14.
Why? It’s the debut of Monday Night Football for the season and it’s anyone’s guess who might be manning (no it won’t be him) the booth that night.
The Monday Night Football broadcast is lost and is trying to find its way back into football fans’ hearts. Currently Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland are the team and it’s just not working. Neither have been told that the plug is being pulled on them, but from everything out there in various media reports, they won’t be back. Nothing against those guys personally, but the booth needs a retooling. The chemistry isn’t there.
What used to be appointment watching has now become a disappointment to watch. The glory days of ABC’s early telecasts are gone. The uniqueness of those booths can’t be replicated and the times have just changed frankly and maybe nobody should try to duplicate what worked then.
The formula was simple. Frank Gifford, the former New York Giants star, was the play-by-play voice, taking over for the original guy, Keith Jackson. Gifford had a likeable quality and was a familiar face in a large media market in New York. “Dandy” Don Meredith, another former player, was the “class clown” with his endearing Southern drawl and “Turn out the lights…” song to end a game. Gifford and Meredith were great, but the star was Howard Cosell. The brash, unapologetic, tell it like it was and never at a loss for words, Cosell was must watch television. Cosell had always been a bit contemptuous when it came to ex-jocks in the booth and here he was, working with two of them. He and Meredith would clash often, but it worked.
Over the years, ABC tried to duplicate the formula a couple of times. When Al Michaels took over the play-by-play duties, the network shifted Gifford to analyst along with Dan Dierdorf. It was a few years later when the folks at ABC thought, let’s bring in a comedian Dennis Miller to work with Michaels and Dan Fouts. That experiment didn’t last very long. When the telecasts moved to ESPN, that network looked to recapture something from the glory days as well, by hiring Tony Kornheiser as an analyst along with Joe Theismann. That lasted a short time too. It’s hard to replicate something that was really a once in a lifetime thing. I understand why the choice was made though.
Monday Night Football in the 70’s was on one of 3 major networks at the time. Now, ESPN is one of hundreds of TV options along with streaming services fighting for viewership. It’s a much different landscape, so why not adapt to that, instead of going backwards? Move forward. The broadcast could use a shakeup. It may even be time to look outside the box a bit if I’m ESPN. I’m not the network, I don’t work for them, but if I did, here would be my list of candidates and a case made for each.
I’m going to break down who should at least be considered for the new booth. I’ll break it down into categories, those internal candidates already at ESPN, some that are outside the network and a couple that are outside the box. Here we go.
Internal candidates: Dave Pasch, Bob Wischusen and Steve Levy
Pasch is a fixture on the network and is well versed in basketball and football. He has been the radio voice of the Arizona Cardinals since 2002, so the NFL experience is definitely there. Pasch is a proven commodity with the network and has the ability to work with a number of different color analysts. He works well with all of them, deferring when needed to create credibility. He would be a great choice.
Wischusen is also an NFL broadcaster already. He has been the play-by-play voice of the Jets since 2002. Wischusen has been at ESPN in a variety of roles since 2006, where he’s called college football and basketball. A graduate of Boston College he had a couple of classmates with ESPN ties, including the incumbent voice of MNF, Tessitore and ESPN baseball play-by-play guy Jon Sciambi. Wischusen wouldn’t be a flashy choice, but a solid one nonetheless.
Levy has been a mainstay in Bristol having been with ESPN since 1993. He’s probably best known for his SportsCenter anchoring and NHL play-by-play than anything else. Recently though, he’s called College Football again for the network. Levy did call one MNF game last year. It was the second game of the Monday night doubleheader. Levy called it with Brian Griese.
My personal pick from this group would be Pasch.
Internal candidates: Brian Griese, Todd Blackledge, Pat McAfee, Louis Riddick and Jesse Palmer
Of this group, all have played in the NFL, so they all have credibility. Palmer has been around the longest of the group, but he seems to be concentrating more on hosting both in and out of sports.
Griese has the pedigree and that easy-going demeanor that goes over well with audiences.
Blackledge has the knowledge for sure, but is he a primetime performer under the scrutiny of MNF?
Riddick was a star on this year’s coverage of the NFL draft. His insight and knowledge as a player and personnel director make him a qualified candidate. I think I’d rather see him where he is, as a studio contributor.
McAfee is the new kid on the block, filled with energy and opinions. He’s become a big part of ESPN and actually, reportedly auditioned for the MNF booth when Jason Witten returned to play. While he’s a bit of a wildcard, McAfee is very entertaining (he did some work for the WWE) and does know his stuff.
From this group, McAfee is my choice, hands down.
Outside play-by-play: Kevin Harlan and Kevin Burkhardt
Harlan is such a great announcer, with a personality that matches. Harlan is part of the Westwood One coverage of MNF, so he’s already traveling to the sites for the games, why not just say, “Kevin, we need you in the TV booth”? He is the kind of person that can seemingly work with anyone and make the analyst look and sound great. Harlan is valuable to CBS, covering the NFL on Sunday’s and also working on their NCAA Tournament broadcasts.
Burkhardt is a great story, one of perseverance. Waiting for his break, he left the business for a time to sell cars. He knew the day would come and break after break came his way and now, he spends his Summer anchoring FOX Sports coverage of Major League Baseball. His Fall is split between MLB Playoffs and the number two announce team for FOX’s NFL coverage. He’s qualified for sure to take over the MNF booth. I enjoy his easy-going style, never upstaging the game, just calling what he sees. I am a fan.
My vote from this group of Kevins, is Burkhardt. It would be nice for him to be considered and get it.
Outside analyst: Daniel Jeremiah, Steve Mariucci, Nate Burleson and Tony Gonzalez
I’m more impressed every time I see Jeremiah on the air. He has a quiet confidence about him and the information is always good. Jeremiah’s on-air presence is very good and he is concise but informative. In other words, he’s not just talking to hear the sound of his own voice.
Mariucci is the old guard, the coach, the storyteller and a guy you’d like to sit and have a beer with. I’m not sure that the grind of the prep and travel would be something he’d want to do.
Burleson has great credibility as a former player. For a relative newcomer to the field, he handles himself very well on the air. He’s affable and can have a laugh at his own expense on the air. Burleson is pretty plugged in and well versed in the goings on in the NFL today.
Of this group, my pick without much hesitation is Jeremiah. I’d love to see him on the broadcast of MNF.
Outside the Box play-by-play: Gus Johnson
Could you just imagine Gus Johnson in primetime once a week? Don’t laugh too hard, because I think it could work. Johnson’s reputation for making a routine play sound like the most exciting one ever is appealing to a younger crowd. Isn’t that what ESPN is looking for? The 25-54’s eat this stuff up. Johnson would give some fans a reason to tune in, without a dog in the fight or if the game is terrible.
Outside the Box analyst: Rotating analysts
Would ESPN make a move and say, ok, we’ll have a play-by-play announcer, a permanent analyst and a rotating group of “other” analysts? Maybe this is where a Greg Olsen could fit in late in a season. Tony Gonzalez? Michael Strahan (not that he’d have any time with his 2000 jobs!) for a game in New York? Bill Walton? Ok maybe that last one is a stretch, but who knows. This broadcast needs something to pep it up and make it watchable no matter the way the game is going.
So, I’ve picked favorites from each of my categories, but there can only be three in the booth. For the sake of this column, I’ve been given sole power to select the new MNF booth and money is not an object.
From the start of this column, I knew who I’d be going with. Though, some of my own blurbs made me rethink a few times. But in the end, I stuck to my guns. Ladies and Gentlemen, the new MNF booth as chosen by me:
Play-by-play: Kevin Burkhardt
Analyst: Daniel Jeremiah
Analyst: Pat McAfee (rotating group came in 2nd in this one)
I think it’s a solid booth. Burkhardt knows how to use his analysts and delivers solid calls. He’s a pro’s pro. Jeremiah is climbing up that ladder as a respected evaluator of talent and has a ton of football knowledge. With Jeremiah concentrating on the serious, McAfee would be the entertainer and guy that makes outlandish observations and statements, but can back it up with some insight into the game, having played it for so long.
That’s my booth. It’s fresh, new and I think can work and work well.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.
The Chiefs & Eagles Have Super Bowl Game Plans, How About You?
“The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either.”
When it comes to preparation, I usually hold off. I’m a procrastinator’s procrastinator. It sounds better if I say; “I’m driven by deadlines,” but the truth is, I just generally put things off until they absolutely have to be checked off the list. If your goal as a producer is to have a great post-Super Bowl show, don’t be me, you best start working now.
There are many things that complicate booking guests for a Super Bowl reaction show. The obvious is that you have no idea who is winning the game. But, beyond that, you have no way of predicting what will be the biggest story coming out of the game. It could be anything from overtime to a blowout, halftime show debacle, officiating blunder, or even a surprise retirement announcement.
With that in mind, there are some strategies for targeting guests. With these, though, working ahead is paramount. Most anyone that is going to have enough insight to improve your show will be slammed in the hours following the end of the game.
Strategy 1: The Game Participant
This is a big risk, big reward strategy. It is also one that is only available to a select group of shows. If your show is nationally syndicated, in a very large market, or home market for one of the teams, you have a shot here. If not, the odds are not in your favor. The team’s media departments are as busy as anyone during a Super Bowl run. They aren’t likely to help a show they’ve never dealt with during that whirlwind of action.
I am reminded of a friend of mine who worked as the media relations director for a mid-major basketball team that sprung a huge round two upset and advanced to the Sweet 16. Needless to say, he was swamped overnight with interview requests for his coach. He told me every station led with “ESPN Radio” then mumbled the part about being in Puyallup, Washington. It never hurts to ask, but understand it is a long shot.
Strategy Two: Local Player Not In The Game
This can be a really solid idea for both previewing the Super Bowl and the Monday after the game. If you are in a local NFL market, or if a local college or high school star is in the NFL, consider him as an analyst. Who better knows what happens in an NFL game than an NFL player? Bonus points if he has been a Super Bowl participant in the past.
Don’t underestimate how many NFL players are thinking about life after football. One of the dozens of roles as NFL analyst at a major network is an excellent retirement plan. You don’t have to have a Hall of Fame jacket for those gigs, but you do need to be good on air. You might be surprised by how many players will agree to an interview with that in mind.
Strategy Three: The Trusted Analyst
Every network has all their biggest voices either In Phoenix or in the studio for the game. These are people that know the interview game and have plenty of experience. This strategy comes with some obvious hurdles; it turns out the networks paying the analysts to be on site keep them rather busy. While they might have been happy to join your show the Monday after Week Three, this is a different animal.
One other factor you should consider in this strategy is the fact that Sky Harbor airport will be one of the busiest in the world Monday morning. Many of the analysts will be scrambling home to start their off season as well. If your analyst is on the move, travel delays can wreck your whole plan.
Strategy Four: The Pop Culture Angle
Oftentimes the biggest talking point coming out of the game is one of the things happening outside the actual play on the field. If you watch Super Bowl Twitter, the biggest traffic moments are people joking about a slow starting Star Spangled Banner “hitting the over” or how bad the halftime show is. Regardless of the act, it has become the default position that the halftime show is awful, even when we all think they are pretty good. 50 Cent hanging upside down will forever be a meme.
Commercials are going to be a massive talking point after a game, especially if the game doesn’t quite deliver. Who is the voice that can talk to your audience about everything from Rihanna to a Taco Bell commercial? There is the inherent risk of alienating the “talk more sports” guy with this type of guest so, as you should with any guest, make certain they are entertaining.
The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either. Communication between hosts and producers is critical. Have a plan, work ahead and be on the same page.
Most of all, try to enjoy the game – and take the Chiefs and the points.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
ESPN Burying ‘Outside the Lines’ Shows Little Regard for Respected Brand
Continuing to use the ‘OTL’ brand is likely a nod to the great work of Bob Ley, Ryan Smith, and Jeremy Schaap.
With the end of college football season and the Super Bowl marking the conclusion of the NFL season, ESPN has air time to fill on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the next six months. In past years, that opened up a window for the network to bring back its prestige news magazine program, Outside the Lines.
However, late last week, Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand reported that ESPN has decided not to bring back the standalone OTL show. The program most recently aired Saturday mornings during football’s offseason, typically from mid-February through August. That timeslot essentially buried a show that was once an important part of ESPN’s Sunday morning programming.
Outside the Lines provided substantive, in-depth sports features, interviews, and discussions on Sunday mornings, when viewers were conditioned to expect important dialogue and commentary with weekly public affairs programs and political talk shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation.
Originally anchored by Bob Ley, OTL was a departure from the highlights, analysis, and quips that made up most of the network’s programming. This was ESPN doing journalism with a capital “J,” reporting and investigating longer-form stories on pertinent issues in sports, usually off the field, and examining trends that developed through a news cycle.
Eventually, the number of stories the OTL staff worked on — and presumably, the appetite for such content from ESPN viewers — necessitated expanding the show to a daily schedule airing in mid-afternoons. After Ley retired in 2019, Ryan Smith and Jeremy Schaap hosted the show and continued its deeper look into topical sports stories.
Producing for a daily schedule probably spread the show too thin, however. Finding important stories that warranted the stronger coverage promised by the OTL brand became difficult, forcing the show to include panel discussions that resembled the sort of debate programming seen throughout the day on ESPN. As a result, OTL content was whittled down and integrated into the noon edition of SportsCenter each day.
OTL also suffered amid the inherent conflict at ESPN from having a news-gathering, journalistic operation while entering partnerships with the sports leagues it was covering. Hard-hitting reports on domestic violence issues in the NFL, particularly in light of the Ray Rice assault scandal, and player safety concerns with the rise in traumatic brain injuries gave the network’s producers and reporters credibility. But such stories also rankled league officials and team owners who sought more positive promotion for their sport.
ESPN would surely balk at the idea that it throttled back on in-depth reporting and scrutinization. But the network’s relationship with the NFL is obviously better than it once was, best demonstrated by getting better match-ups on the Monday Night Football schedule, Wild Card playoff games, and Super Bowl telecasts for ESPN/ABC in 2027 and 2031. Meanwhile, Outside the Lines has been effectively buried among ESPN programming.
Yet ratings ultimately decide what stays on a broadcast schedule and what doesn’t. And OTL hasn’t drawn a good number of viewers in quite some time. Some of that is likely influenced by an early Saturday morning timeslot that drew an average audience of 303,000. But SportsCenter AM attracts 572,000 viewers in the same timeslot, so it’s apparent that fans want quicker, breezier content as they begin the weekend.
Outside the Lines simply may not stand apart in the current sports media landscape, either. Longer-form storytelling and reporting are often found in documentaries now, and we’re living in the golden age of sports nonfiction films. That includes ESPN’s own documentary brands E:60, 30 For 30, and ESPN Films. (E:60, in particular, seems to have replaced news magazine programming or special reports, which were once reserved for monthly specials early in OTL‘s life, at ESPN.)
Shuttering the Saturday OTL fortunately won’t result in anyone losing a job. According to SBJ‘s Ourand, some staffers will be reassigned to other studio programs. And others will continue to work on OTL-branded content that runs on SportsCenter throughout the day, not just at noon, under the “OTL on SC” banner. Additionally, OTL content will run on ESPN’s digital platforms such as the network’s YouTube channel. So the show will go on… sort of.
ESPN obviously values the OTL brand and realizes that it carries respect among fans and media. (The show also penetrated pop culture enough to warrant a parody on Saturday Night Live.) Otherwise, the network might shelve the title entirely. Yet perhaps that’s really a nod to the work of Ley, an ESPN institution, and Schaap, one of the network’s best reporters (with ties to sports media royalty in Dick Schaap).
That may be Outside the Lines‘ true legacy. Ley created a brand (continued by Smith and Schaap) taken seriously enough that viewers knew it meant bolder sports journalism unafraid to explore stories and questions that warranted such attention. The OTL name carries enough weight that ESPN can’t bear to get rid of it entirely, even if it doesn’t hold the place at the network that it once did.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’
“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”
After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.
That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.
“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio.
“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot. There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.”
Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.
After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.
With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.
“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”
After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.
In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In. In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.
And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.
“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”
Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.
“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard.
Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland. He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.
Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.
“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.”
So much for being just a basketball guy, right?
After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.
“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”
Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.
During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.
So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.
“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games. Ultimately that led to television.”
And the rest is history.
This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.
And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.
“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”
Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports.
From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.
“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”
He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.