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The Five Best College Football Broadcasters of All-Time

Who were the best announcers to ever call college football? Which guys, when you hear them, think, wow, this is probably a big college football game?

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Keith Jackson

It’s that time of year again. College Football will be inescapable for the next 5 months. It will be everywhere. You’ll see games on your computer, your phones and yes, even your television. Games all day and all night. Heisman trophy candidates and upsets all in the same day. The pageantry of the sport is alluring, making it so popular and lucrative for the many networks out there.  

The approaching season got me thinking, which can be a dangerous thing, just ask my fiancé. Who were the best announcers to ever call college football? Which guys, when you hear them, think, wow, this is probably a big college football game? I have limited the choices to television, network announcers only. The ranking process was not easy, because there are many that have been involved in calling NCAA football, that are deserving, but there are only 5 spots on the list. 

Here we go! Let the debate begin. 

#5 Brad Nessler, ESPN, CBS

As I wrote when I featured Nessler in my “Anatomy of a Broadcaster” series, Brad Nessler is smooth, authoritative and in control of his broadcasts. You can tell he does his homework and in the opens to his television games, there’s a bit of a swagger that is noticeable if you watch closely. It is the type of swagger that’s not saying “I’m the man, look at me.” Instead, it is one that I believe says, “watch this broadcast, I know what I’m talking about and you’ll enjoy it.”

Nessler’s command of a broadcast and voice combine to make each game he does feel big. There’s a reason CBS tabbed him to replace Verne Lundquist on those marquee SEC on CBS games. He can handle it and then some. Professional to the end without making the broadcast and game about him. 

#4 Brent Musburger, ESPN/ABC, CBS

“You are looking live!” Musburger’s signature line used to get our Sunday’s off to a great start on the NFL Today on CBS. He transitioned to more of a play-by-play role when he left the network for ESPN/ABC. There, Musburger’s duties included calling seven BCS National Championship games (2000, 2004, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). He recently wrapped up a four-year stint as the radio voice of the Las Vegas Raiders. 

Musburger is unlike the announcer I have at #5 (Nessler), because he makes the game a little more about himself during a broadcast. Even so, fans seemed to love him, because you never knew what he might say next. He somehow was able to endear himself to the viewer. His style may be less traditional than your typical play-by-play announcer, but it worked for him. Yet, when it was time to get excited, he certainly did, when it was time to be critical, he criticized. No matter the case, there was always a sense that when Musburger was on the call, it was a ‘must watch’ game. 

Musburger was one of the first to allude to the betting line in a game, look how far we’ve come in that respect. 

#3 Lindsey Nelson, NBC, CBS

Nelson’s voice was unique as was his attire, but he was one of the best to ever call games. He was known for his ‘loud’ plaid jackets. Legend has it, he started his collection that reached nearly 350 jackets, by asking a salesman for all the jackets he couldn’t sell. While the jackets may have made a statement, Nelson was quite understated in his broadcasts. Many called his style bland, and it was a deliberate act of his. 

“Bob Neyland once told me at Tennessee that Howard Johnson’s has 28 flavors of ice cream, and the one that sells the most is vanilla,” Nelson explained. “He said, ‘Give me the football game—who’s carrying the ball, what yard line, and who tackled him. Not a lot of funny stories.’” Nelson told Rudy Martzke in 1986.

Nelson was a recognizable voice in college football for more than 30 years. His voice was not deep, but it was strong with a bit of a Southern accent. He did play-by-play for Notre Dame for 14 seasons. Nelson became known as “Mr. New Year’s Day”, calling 26 Cotton Bowl games, 5 Sugar Bowls and 4 Rose Bowls. He also provided the call for multiple Army/Navy games, including the 1963 game that was the first to utilize instant replay.  

Nelson’s broadcasts may have been vanilla, but they were not dull. It was said of Nelson, that he learned to convey excitement without screaming. When he cracked his mic, you got the impression that he was excited to be wherever he was. 

#2 Verne Lundquist, ABC, CBS, TNT

This fan favorite helped put the SEC on CBS on the map. Lundquist transitioned from calling the NFL, to a starring role in the college football programming on the network. The timing was perfect for both Lundquist and CBS, when he started that role in 2000. The SEC was establishing itself as one of THE conferences as the BCS helped the college football landscape become more nationally known. 

Lundquist is ‘every man’, in the way he calls games. Watching Verne is like being told a story by one of your relatives. His broadcasts speak to people, in his excitement, phrases and storytelling ability. He’s not one of those egomaniacal broadcasters that has to make everything in a telecast about him. Lundquist has been praised as a great assist man, setting up his analysts to make a broadcast sing. 

#1 Keith Jackson, ABC

When the headline of your obituary says, “Keith Jackson, Voice of College Football, Dies at 89”, people know you made your mark. Jackson was the soundtrack to many Saturdays for fans of the game. If Keith was doing the game, it was a game that HAD to be seen. Big games, big moments and big calls were all a part of Jackson’s resume and reel. 

That resume included some other high-profile roles. Jackson was the original voice of “Monday Night Football”. He called 10 Olympic Games for “ABC’s Wide World of Sports”. Jackson was also one of the network’s voices for Major League Baseball, NBA and auto racing. 

While some announcers thought they were bigger than the game, Jackson was. Not that he made you think it, but the reverence shown for him by coaches, players and fans alike spoke louder than even his words. Jackson was a legend in the world of college football, much like Vin Scully was in baseball.

Jackson is credited with naming Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, “the Big House”, he also dubbed the Rose Bowl as, “the grandaddy of ‘em all”. He admired the big offensive and defensive linemen calling them, “the Big Uglies in the trenches.” 

Whoa, Nellie! Keith Jackson was the best to ever call college football. To borrow from his southern good ole boy nature, “and it ain’t even close.” 

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The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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