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ESPN: Troy Aikman and Joe Buck Were ‘At The Top Of Our List’

“For me, they are simply the best team out there. Their chemistry, their love of the game and the high standard they set for themselves [is what] I think… makes them an incredible team.”

Derek Futterman

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Troy Aikman and Joe Buck

As the start of the revamped Monday Night Football broadcasts on ESPN draws closer, the anticipation to get started is steadily growing as Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Lisa Salters – take the reins as the voices of Monday night.

“When we were white-boarding our ultimate booth shortly after the regular season, Troy and Joe were at the top of that list for all of us,” said ESPN Head of Event and Studio Production Stephanie Druley. “For me, they are simply the best team out there. Their chemistry, their love of the game and the high standard they set for themselves [is what] I think… makes them an incredible team.”

Buck and Aikman grew up watching Monday Night Football when Pat Summerall and John Madden brought fans the action, but viewed the game from very different perspectives. While Aikman was envisioning becoming a professional football player, Buck was striving to follow in his father Jack’s footsteps as a professional broadcaster. In fact, his father called the Monday night games with Hank Stram, albeit on the CBS Radio Network. Two doors down though, the team of Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell was indicative of a media spectacle to Buck, and something he has always wanted to do.

Before landing the job as the new voice of Monday Night Football, Buck was the lead play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports on both its football and baseball broadcasts, getting the chance to call several Super Bowl and World Series games, along with other marquee matchups. In this new stage of his career, Buck figures to be an active member of ESPN and will appear across its programming and select ABC shows. He will be keeping the play-by-play to football, as he does not have a desire to return to calling baseball games but will instead focus on serving in a producer role for upcoming projects.

“I think I’m pretty good with just calling football [for] the rest of my life or the rest of my career,” Buck said, “which hopefully doesn’t turn into the rest of my life.”

ESPN was content with its previous Monday Night Football booth of Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese, but considers Buck, Aikman and Salters to be an upgrade. In landing the booth it has, the network is eager to see the product come Week 1 and hopes it leads to the league scheduling even better matchups for the broadcast in the years to come.

“These guys deserve a certain level of game, and the expectation is that the league sees that as well and we will reap the benefit of that,” Druley said. “We have an incredible schedule this year, and I do think that the booth matters in the amount of quality you’re going to get.”

Being the only football game on television each week presents a unique opportunity for this broadcast to stand out among the others and continue to make it appointment viewing for football fans. Akin to how he took center stage as a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Aikman is ready to be in primetime with Buck, his longtime broadcast partner, to his left.

“To be at ESPN where it’s the only game on their network and the pride that they have in this property and what they are willing to do to make [it] a success and what it means in this portfolio of events is something that we’ve never experienced,” Aikman said. “….We’ve been with ESPN now for several months and we keep waiting. Now it’s finally here and it’s really exciting.”

The emphasis on just how special and revered these broadcasts are is hardly hyperbole, according to Buck, as he affirms it represents a preeminent broadcast property in the history of football broadcasts and live game broadcasts in general for that matter. Now as the opening broadcasts draws closer, Buck and his colleagues expect to bring fans a stellar product and when the moment they have been waiting for finally comes, it will symbolize the gravity and allure distinct to Monday Night Football.

“I think when that theme song hits, I’ll get chills,” Buck said. “….For people of a certain generation when you hear that theme song back in the day with the yellow jackets and the pomp and circumstance and the craziness that happens at Monday Night Football, it just has kind of always been something in my mind…. This is the pinnacle of being in any booth anywhere.”

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Venu Sports Announces Founding Leadership Team

Barrett Sports Media

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Venu Sports Leadership Team
Courtesy: Venu Sports

Venu Sports, the new joint streaming venture from ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, has announced the members of its founding leadership team that will report to Pete Distad, the chief executive officer of the entity. The team will be based in New York and Los Angeles and features executives with vast experiences in entertainment, media, technology, sports and sports betting companies.

Brian Borkowski has been named the chief marketing officer for Venu Sports and will be responsible for marketing, branding and growth strategies to help the brand launch and grow. Borkowski previously worked at FanDuel where he was the senior vice president of marketing for the company as it continued its expansion. Additionally, he has held various leadership roles with Hulu, including vice president of media and acquisition, along with head of subscriber acquisition. Over the years, he worked as the chief marketing officer of analytics firm Verikai and also had marketing leadership roles with Neilson Financial Services and Farmers Insurance.

Jessica Casano-Antonellis will serve as the senior vice president and head of communications for Venu Sports. Casano-Antonellis previously led communications at SiriusXM and also worked as the vice president of communications for Disney+ and Hulu at The Walt Disney Company. Among her responsibilities were overseeing communications initiatives for streaming propositions, including launching and rolling out Disney’s flagship streaming service.

Tim Connolly will serve as the chief business officer of the company with responsibilities pertaining to strategic initiatives for the sports streaming platform. Some of these areas of focus include content rights and licensing, distribution and strategic partnership and subscriber growth and retention strategies. Connolly previously helped lead subscriber growth for Apple TV+ and MLS Season Pass at Apple, along with serving in senior leadership roles at Hulu and The Walt Disney Company.

Amit Dudakia will be responsible for product management and design, along with programming and editorial for Venu Sports in his new role of senior vice president and head of product. Dudakia most recently worked as the senior vice president of product management for Fox Technology and Digital where he led product and design for the FOX Sports division. Dudakia started working with the Fox Corporation at FX Network where he helped launch a variety of entities under its umbrella.

Skarpi Hedinsson has been named the chief technology officer of Venu Sports and will be responsible for technology strategy and execution for the streaming service. Hedinsson was previously the chief technology officer of the Los Angeles Rams and played an integral role leading the team envisioning, designing and implementing technology within SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park. Hedinsson is the former chief technology officer of Disney/ABC Television Group, working in the role amid the launch of the WATCH ABC and WATCH Disney services.

This is a developing story. More information will be added as it is learned.

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FOX Sports Draws 1.59 Million Viewers for UFL Championship Game

This year’s championship game, which was called by Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt and also featured a visit from Tom Brady in the booth, peaked at 1,723,000 viewers from 6:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

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Photo of the UFL Championship game on FOX Sports
Photo Courtesy: FOX Sports

If television viewership is the barometer, spring football had a heck of season. It all culminated with FOX Sports drawing 1.59 million viewers for the United Football League championship game between the Birmingham Stallions and the San Antonio Brahmas, which the Stallions won 25-0.

The Stallions’ third consecutive championship was up 38% over their second championship a year ago when they played Pittsburgh in the USFL championship game. It was also an increase of 11% over the XFL Championship game from last year between Arlington and DC.

This year’s championship game, which was called by Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt and also featured a visit from Tom Brady in the booth, peaked at 1,723,000 viewers from 6:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

The UFL regular season was split between FOX and ABC/ESPN this year. The regular season average television audience of 816,000 was more than 30% higher than the pace from the previous year and the recent conference championship games were up 57% over the averages from the USFL and XFL last season. According to SI’s Mike Mitchell, the league saw a large increase in the 18-49 demographic on FOX compared to USFL programming in 2023.

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Report: Pat McAfee Does Not Currently Have an Agreement to Return to ‘College GameDay’

“With the start of the season a little more than two months away, Pat McAfee remains unsigned with ESPN’s “College GameDay.”

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Screengrab of Pat McAfee on College GameDay
Screengrab: ESPN College GameDay

College GameDay, the beloved college football pre-game show on ESPN, has a big change in store for it this coming season with the addition of former Alabama head coach Nick Saban joining the team. According to a report today from Andrew Marchand of The Athletic, there is no guarantee their most recent addition prior to Saban will be back. Marchand says that Pat McAfee remains unsigned as far as returning to the show.

Marchand wrote, “With the start of the season a little more than two months away, Pat McAfee remains unsigned with ESPN’s “College GameDay,” sources briefed on McAfee’s contract talks told The Athletic.

“McAfee, the 37-year-old talk show host, wrestling analyst and firebrand, said late last year that he would return to the program, but a deal to make that official is still not completed. McAfee has a separate contract that allows ESPN to license his daily “The Pat McAfee Show” on its network and YouTube.”

Marchand reports the two sides are continuing to talk but no agreement has been reached as of yet.

McAfee spent college football Saturday’s last season with host Rece Davis and co-hosts Desmond Howard, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso. In October, a survey done by The Athletic showed that of 3,100 respondents, only 30.1% said they like McAfee on GameDay, with 48.9% saying they do not like him on the show. Another 21% said they had no opinion.

In response the survey, McAfee posted on X at the time, ““I have heard you all very loud and clear since the beginning of my stint with GameDay. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I have not resigned a contract with the legendary show,” he said. “I’m not right for some crowds and the ‘distinguished’ College Football folks are definitely one of those. Excited to enjoy the rest of this year, that’s shaping up to be a GREAT one, and then see what the future holds.”

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