Wasn’t football supposed to be ghosted by now, a victim of cancel culture? Allow me to jog America’s convenient amnesia from, say, four years ago. If the concussion crisis and a continuous flurry of personal conduct cases wouldn’t kill the NFL, then the Colin Kaepernick backlash certainly would. That’s what the media were doomcasting then, mainstream and social alike.
Book it: A league lorded by old, white, tone-deaf billionaires had no chance of surviving the onslaught of the people.
So why is it, people, that the NFL in 2021 is more prominent, prosperous and almighty than ever? Deftly surviving those existential challenges AND a global pandemic that didn’t cancel a single game, the league is successfully doubling its media rights bonanza, commanding a collective $100 billion-plus from networks and streamers beholden to the owners like never before. Not only will the NFL remain king, it will stay atop the throne into the next decade, with 17-game regular seasons stretching to 18. And if it didn’t do so without selling out — Roger Goodell, meet the grimy casino world — the league has maintained cross-demographic relevance while Major League Baseball is battered by crippling crises and the NBA struggles amid internal upheaval.
You don’t have to like how the NFL avoided its so-called demise, politicizing and scheming all the way. I’m not a fan of the Jerry Jones grandstand and the Robert Kraft rub-and-tug, a crime he got away with, of course. But if we once looked at Goodell and thought he was the world’s biggest idiot, who’s saying that now? Ray Rice forced the league to look inward and crack down on off-field crime. Safety rules were installed to protect brains. Quarterbacks were surrounded by impenetrable force fields, or so it seemed, and maximized for optimum starpower and importance. Offenses exploded, giving rise to Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and magicians friendly to TV audiences, fantasy geeks and millions of thrill-seekers lapping up the league’s new embrace of legalized gambling.
And when the Kaepernick fallout could have led to labor ruin, Goodell finally expressed what he should have said years before, showing up in his home den — was he in pajamas with giraffes? — and declaring, “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”
Crisis averted, the NFL was restored as the epicenter of American sports, the last remaining form of premium appointment media in an evolving culture of cord-cutting, Gen-Z indifference and relentless life problems — COVID-19, racial protests, political madness, deadly Capitol Hill riots and who in God’s name knows what else. Sports doesn’t matter to the masses as it once did.
Football still matters.
Flip on the TV. Check out the websites. Tune to sports radio. What is the dominant topic in March, as America slowly tries to vaccinate itself out of a corona-nightmare? It isn’t college basketball, which might have brackets but lacks the usual passion and interest heading inside an Indiana bubble where only smatterings of fans will be permitted for a sport reliant on energy. The NBA? The All-Star Game was a COVID-distracted bore, and wake us up when the playoffs start and the Brooklyn Nets realize they can’t win a title without a defensive stop, regardless of unprecedented offensive machinery. Baseball, careening toward a devastating labor impasse, is appropriately drawing more attention for sexual harassment than anything happening on the fields of spring training. Are they even playing hockey?
Here’s what America is talking about: the NFL. Through the postseason and another Ageless Tom Brady coronation, the buzz somehow hasn’t stopped. Now it’s all about quarterback-o-rama, the mobility of nobility, non-stop debates on where Watson and Russell Wilson might be headed as they demand their way to preferred destinations. As I’ve written, this get-me-out-of-here-ism isn’t healthy for the league’s competitive integrity or balance, but it’s great for media traffic. Which explains why every legitimate development is met with an enormous headline: Ben Roethlisberger is staying in Pittsburgh … Matthew Stafford finally fled a loser in Detroit for a chance to win in Los Angeles … Carson Wentz, who could play Prince Harry in the movie if this football thing doesn’t work out, has a rehab shot in Indianapolis.
The drama is only beginning, sure to extend through an April 29 draft night that will include teams jumping the line with trade-ups. Don’t be shocked, after Trevor Lawrence joins Urban Meyer in Jacksonville and Zach Wilson’s life is ruined with the Jets, that the Panthers trade up to take Justin Fields and the Falcons select Trey Lance — yep, quarterbacks with the first four picks — with the 49ers potentially moving up to No. 9 to snag Mac Jones. But those calls are weeks away. As long as Wilson and Watson aren’t tethered to their current situations, the hum will grow louder.
If the Seahawks now are listening to Wilson offers, does that mean the four teams on his agent’s stated wish list — Cowboys, Bears, Saints, Raiders — now have legitimate shots? Shouldn’t Wilson push hard for New Orleans and do his best to avoid Boss Jerry, Jon Gruden and Chicago’s QB dead end? And what if the Saints don’t land Watson or Wilson? Is that why Drew Brees, supposedly being fitted for an NBC blazer, was working out furiously on a video posted by his trainer? If the Saints don’t want him anymore, might Bill Belichick take a one-year flyer? Or might he trade up for Jones, who’s being compared to Brady, though he’s more likely a byproduct of having DeVonta Smith in his daily radar at Alabama? Maybe Jerry tires of Dak Prescott’s contractual demands — the guy has more commercial endorsements than playoff appearances — and trades him for Derek Carr … or Wilson.
Might the Bears be best served, given their dismal history at the position, playing an entire season without a quarterback? Will anyone opt for a feel-good triumph in Alex Smith? And who wants Sam Darnold? Maybe the Washington Football Team, which could make something of the misfit after extracting a decent playoff showing from Taylor Heinicke. And will Lamar Jackson, still a postseason straggler, become the next star to enter the get-me-out-of-here derby if the Ravens don’t extend his contract to his wishes?
Know how crazy it’s getting? Baker Mayfield — entrenched in Cleveland, at least until his next four-turnover game — tweeted something about seeing “a UFO drop straight out of the sky” on his way home from dinner. Fox Sports Radio host Colin Cowherd, who still would bash Mayfield if he won a Super Bowl, said, “I would prefer of all the qualities of a franchise quarterback … I want to know your arm. Are you good pre-snap? Are you mobile? The ability to see UFOs in the offseason is nowhere near my top 10 qualifications. Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady have never seen aliens. I would prefer my guys don’t talk about it.”
You’ll never guess who stepped out of his Super Bowl hangover to respond. “How do you know I’ve never seen aliens Colin?” tweeted Brady.
With the Kardashians fading from mass TV consumption — may Kanye rest in peace — QB Chitter-Chatter is the new American gossip obsession. Whether it’s a scam created by agents or a natural outgrowth of the most glamorous position in team sports, the rage is just another reason why Fox, CBS and NBC have no choice but to ante up, soon to announce 11-year deals at roughly $2 billion each to renew current packages. And why ESPN, with the promise of a long-coveted spot in the Super Bowl rotation, will pay more than $2 billion for “Monday Night Football” after initially balking at the NFL’s demand of a fee increase. And why Jeff Bezos is an expected part of the mix, buying “Thursday Night Football” for his Amazon Prime Video platform and forcing Baby Boomers to figure out this streaming thing.
The post-pandemic media landscape will look like a war-torn battlefield, leaving uncertainty across the entertainment industry. Turns out the NFL was disruption-proof, its ratings holding reasonably steady when 2020 ratings were tumbling throughout sports, making football the surest investment bet for the networks. The league did lose $5 billion in 2020 revenue, yet still topped out near $10 billion, according to Forbes — while MLB was falling to $4 billion and the NBA, over two seasons, to $7.9 billion. With the new media jackpot, the NFL is the only major sports league without financial concerns, with the 32 teams assured of sharing added multiple billions per year.
If anyone has a crystal ball about where the world will be in 2031, please show me. It’s possible a different collection of NFL bidders takes shape, from platforms we don’t know about yet. Jones and Kraft likely won’t be involved, and perhaps Bezos will have ascended to the ownership of the Washington Football Team. Maybe virus variants lead to another pandemic that forces sports into movable bubbles without spectators, designed by Elon Musk. My guess is your guess, much depending on whether the NFL retains the eyeballs of teenagers as they grow into disposable-income adulthood.
Until then, I just want to know where the doomcasters went.
Probably debating where Russell Wilson ends up, I suppose.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
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.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
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.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.