In the history of the NFL, there has never been more action in the broadcast booth than there is right now. A confluence of factors has led to booms for top-tier play-by-play announcers and analysts.
ESPN’s move on March 16 to poach the team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman of Fox Sports shook the sports media world, while Al Michaels after 16 years at NBC chose to leave when his contract expired. He was about to make a rich deal with Amazon to call for games Thursday night.
It all leaves Fox looking for a new NFL A team, NBC decides on Michaels’ successor, and Amazon is apparently betting on Michaels to bring gravitas to its broadcasts (the streamer had simulcast Fox, CBS and NBC broadcasts in recent years, but will now produce its own games for the first time as part of its exclusive package). In other words, Buck-Aikman is only the beginning of the talent that is coming. “It was good to be in business with NFL analysts before,” says a senior agency source, “but it’s even better now.”
(ESPN actually entered into a “trade” with Fox to get his deal done. Buck had a year left on his contract, and a source confirms to THR that in return for letting him go early, ESPN gave Fox the rights to a Penn State-Purdue football game next season.)
The chaos can trace its origins to two mega-deals: analyst Tony Romos’ 10-year $ 180 million contract with CBS in 2020 and the NFL’s 11-year $ 110 billion rights packages signed with CBS, NBC, ESPN, Fox and Amazon last year .
Romo’s deal on its own raised the salary expectations of every top advertiser and analyst, notes the agency’s source, and moved the pay floor from the middle seven digits to the low eight digits, where the best talent secured even richer deals. That’s why Buck and Aikmans estimated total annual draws at $ 30 million, and why NBC analyst and Michael’s former partner Cris Collinsworth is seeking a contract extension and a major pay rise.
The huge NFL rights agreements, driven by the league’s television ratings, make it easier to justify the inflated pay days. “If you spend $ 2 billion a year just for the rights to the games, why not spend a few hundred million extra to make sure you put together the best possible production?” adds the agency’s source.
A source familiar with the rights negotiations notes that the league chooses its media partners in part because it trusts that they deliver production values ”worthy” of the game. And there’s more football to produce than ever before: The NFL moved last year to a regular season of 17 games, adding two additional wild card playoff contests.
At the same time, the league has made no secret of the fact that it encourages its rights partners to add even more NFL coverage, especially through alternative broadcasts such as ESPN’s efforts hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning or Nickelodeon’s kid-friendly wildcard telecast hosted by Noah Eagle, Nate Burleson and Gabrielle Nevaeh Green, complete with special effects and slime.
ESPN’s “Manningcast” proved so successful that the network extended its deal with the brothers through 2024, asking them to develop other TV shows for sports such as the UFC. Major rights partners could end up with multiple NFL stands, just as ESPN does with Buck-Aikman and Mannings.
And networks can also expect to pay nicely for the talent on these broadcasts. NFL Media COO Hans Schroeder told reporters at a conference call last March that the league was excited about the potential of the alternative broadcast feeds: “We know our fan base is big enough that I think there is a good one. part of our fans who want to get involved in these new experiences, not only on different screens, but with different forms of delivery. ”
It all comes together in a perfect storm where there are more speakers and analysts calling more games on more platforms than ever before, and TV rights holders willing to pay more to secure the A-list talent and justify their multi-billion dollar investment in the game. For those in the booth, it’s game on.
A version of this story first appeared in the Hollywood Reporter magazine on March 23rd. Click here to subscribe.