Troy Aikman’s spinning wheel of offseason fortune will reportedly stop with a new home for the broadcaster, but not the one most sports media observers have expected.
According to the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand, Aikman is close to signing a deal with ESPN to be the top analyst for Monday Night Football. Marchand describes the two sides as “deep in negotiations” to the point where a deal is expected to be completed.
The exact terms of Aikman’s deal with ESPN haven’t yet been revealed, but Marchand said on Twitter that it would be a five-year agreement. The average annual salary is expected to rival the $18 million per year that Tony Romo earns in the 10-year, $180 million contract he signed with CBS two years ago.
Aikman reportedly earned $8 million this past season with Fox. (Marchand reports that he would earn $13.5 million annually over the next four years if he stayed with Fox, but could opt out if he received a higher offer.)
Aikman reportedly on the verge of joining ESPN means that the network is blowing up the three-man booth of Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick that’s called Monday Night Football for the past two seasons. Griese’s contract is up with ESPN and it’s doubtful that Riddick would be on the crew with Aikman. And Levy could be the play-by-play announcer, but wouldn’t the network want to pair a star analyst with an equally marquee partner?
Will ESPN get Al Michaels to join Aikman in a revamped MNF booth? The two were expected to be Amazon’s top choices for its upcoming exclusive Thursday Night Football package. But ESPN has reportedly showed interest in hiring Michaels with his NBC contract expiring after Super Bowl LVI, and the network is facing a possible overhaul of its NFL studio coverage as well.
Putting the potential money aside, Michaels may not find Amazon as appealing if he’s not partnered with Aikman. Would Kurt Warner be someone that could fill that role?
The belief is that he would prefer not to work with a first-time analyst like Sean Payton. Perhaps Michaels would put that aside if Amazon hired Sean McVay, but he’s expected to remain as coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Besides, ESPN appeared to be the network showing the most interest in McVay. Would Tom Brady also be an appealing option?
Aikman leaving Fox knocks down another set of dominoes as well. Who replaces him on Fox’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team with Joe Buck? The network will broadcast two of the next three Super Bowls. The expectation is that rising star Greg Olsen will be bumped up to the top crew. But Fox may also want to make a splashy move with a big name like Payton. (McVay or Brady probably have to be considered in the mix as well.)
Marchand also raised one other moonshot-type move in his report: ESPN could make a run at Joe Buck, whose contract expires next year. Yet Buck also calls MLB broadcasts for the network, including the World Series and All-Star Game. Fox would presumably want to keep him and Buck doesn’t have the same kind of opt-out in his deal.
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.
Nick Wright: The Best Version of First Things First is What We’re Doing Now
“I used to approach the TV show with the perspective of I have to prove how smart I am to the audience every single day.”
Nick Wright has been a co-host on First Things First on FS1 for the last five-and-a-half years. The show has evolved over the years and according to Wright, he has evolved as a broadcaster from the time he got cut from doing play-by-play at WAER in Syracuse to now.
Wright was a guest on The Colin Cowherd Podcast this week and he said that when he first appeared on television, he wanted the audience to think he had all the answers, but the mindset has changed for him and he said the new version of the show that he does with Kevin Wildes and Chris Broussard every weekday is the most successful version of the show.
“When I got on TV, I think the first year maybe, I thought the job was to always have all the answers. To have the facts exactly right, to never be wrong. I’ve now done the show for five-and-a-half years. By a country mile, the most successful version of the show is the one I’m doing right now — this moment — with Wildes and Broussard. It’s the funniest and that’s why.
“I used to approach the TV show with the perspective of I have to prove how smart I am to the audience every single day. Now I approach it as our entire goal is to put on a show that people smile while they are watching and have a good time and that has enough meat to it where it is not all empty calories. There’s got to be the information, there’s got to be the analysis, but there’s also got to be a lot of bells and whistles and funny stuff and guys messing with each other and that’s what works. That took me a while to figure out.”
The only time when Wright didn’t think he had to prove how smart he was when he first appeared on TV was when he would appear on The Herd as Cowherd’s guest and he had a goal in mind whenever he would appear on the show.
“Early in our relationship, I was really, really trying to impress you and I wanted to make you laugh. Every time I came on, I was like ‘It’s successful if I made Colin laugh’. I was too stupid to realize I should just be trying to make the audience laugh, too… That was the best version of me at the time. I felt like you knew I was smart, so I wasn’t trying to prove it to you. I could be the best version of myself.”
While Wright knows he is not a traditional broadcaster, he mentioned to Cowherd that there is one skill set he definitely knows he has.
“The point is I’m not a great broadcaster, like a traditional broadcaster. I can’t read off a teleprompter, but there is a specific thing I can do, which is confidently argue, whether it’s 1-on-1 with my wife or in front of a million people.”
Even though Wright got cut from doing play-by-play at Syracuse, he told Cowherd he was doing talk shows at the station still and it led him to where he is today.
“I was fortunate that I was already working on the talk-show staff. Growing up, I thought I wanted to do play-by-play, but what I wanted to do was color commentary. I would watch the NBA on NBC with Bob Costas, Bill Walton, and Steve ‘Snapper’ Jones and what I wanted to do was the color, but I didn’t realize you can’t do that unless you are a former player or a former coach. They aren’t hiring me to do commentary
“I was crushed, but it made me fully pivot to talk shows. Now at WAER, the talk show studio is named after me and my picture is on the wall. I am a Hall of Famer there. Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Nick Wright, those are the three studios there.”
Ricky Keeler is a reporter for BSM with a primary focus on sports media podcasts and national personalities. He is also an active podcaster with an interest in pursuing a career in sports media. You can find him on Twitter @Rickinator555 or reach him by email at RickJKeeler@gmail.com.
Outside the Lines Won’t Return to ESPN Weekend Schedule
The show, which debuted in 1990, aired as a daily show from 2003 to 2019 and aired a Sunday-edition from 2000 to 2017.
ESPN has decided to not return Outside the Lines to its weekend lineup, ending the show’s linear television run.
A report from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal claims ESPN told OTL staffers that the show wouldn’t return to the network after the Super Bowl.
The show, which debuted in 1990, aired as a daily show from 2003 to 2019 and aired a Sunday-edition from 2000 to 2017. Outside the Lines was often regarded as the “moral compass” of ESPN, and was often the source of some of the more investigative reporting employed by the network.
Outside the Lines — which was airing at 9:00 AM on Saturday mornings — averaged 303,000 viewers in the timeslot. Meanwhile, SportsCenter: AM has seen an average audience of 572,000 in the same window.
The Outside the Lines brand will continue being utilized during the Noon ET SportsCenter, as well as ESPN digital platforms, including the network’s YouTube page.
Jeremy Schaap will continue to host the Outside the Lines segments during SportsCenter, but will also be the host of a new iteration of The Sports Reporters that will air on ESPN’s YouTube channel. Schaap’s father, Dick, was the host of the ESPN Sunday morning program from 1988 until his death in 2001. The show aired on ESPN from 1988 to 2017.
CBS: Calling Meeting With Tony Romo ‘Intervention’ is ‘Complete Mischaracterization’
“We meet regularly with our on-air talent.”
An opening question in broadcasting circles is ‘What happened to Tony Romo?’, with even CBS reportedly pondering the issue.
During The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast earlier this week, The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand claimed CBS attempted “an intervention” with its lead NFL analyst.
The intended mission of several alleged meetings with CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus and CBS NFL producer Jim Rikhoff was to return Romo to his previous heights, which were widely regarded as the best NFL analyst in the business.
CBS Sports has responded to the insinuation that the meetings would be classified as an “intervention” with a strong denial.
“To call this an intervention is a complete mischaracterization, we meet regularly with our on-air talent,” CBS Sports spokeswoman Jen Sabatelle told Marchand.
Marchand added that CBS Sports officials plan to attempt to rectify the issues it sees with Romo again this offseason. Romo — who signed a 10-year, $180 million contract with CBS Sports in 2020 — is slated to call Super Bowl LVIII in 2024 with Jim Nantz.