Over this past weekend, news emerged that the NFL put the kibosh on Mike Tirico’s calling Thursday night games for NBC. This was the primary job, for now, that the network lured him away from ESPN on a big money deal to do. The story was stupefying at the break, but even more so when the league released this statement on the record.
So the NFL believes the man who spent the last 10 years calling Monday Night Football somehow did not have the cachet for Thursday nights?
NBC’s Sunday Night Football, produced by Fred Gaudelli, is widely regarded as the crispest NFL broadcast. Al Michaels, at 71 years old, has not lost a tip-toe, let alone a step. Nevertheless, per the New York Daily News story that first broke this news, Michaels did not want to work these extra games. Bringing Tirico in to carry this load, and get him acclimated with Collinsworth and the production team for whenever Michaels is ready to step aside, appeared to be a win-win.
That was until the NFL opted to publicly embarrass both NBC and Tirico. The league’s true motives for this are anyone’s guess. CBS sent their #1 crew to both Thursday night and Sunday games last year, and so they could be trying to head off a similar move to partition the announcing duties from CBS (please, no, anything but less exposure to Phil Simms!). Could it be that the NFL is very sensitive to the idea that Thursday night games are second-rate — an idea, by the way, rooted in reality — and they could not bear any appearance of cutting corners?
That seems to be what their statement indicates, even though Mike Tirico is hardly bargain basement. While, again, Al Michaels is phenomenal, it’s not impossible to foresee diminishing returns when he’s criss-crossing the country during the second half of the season, doubling his preparation load. This also goes for the rest of the SNF crew. How much more capacity is there for a group that was already firing on all cylinders to make one game a week feel like the most special event?
How NBC (and Tirico’s agent Sandy Montag) didn’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s on this boggles the mind. They really made this splashy hire without first clearing it through the highest channels? They just assumed the NFL would accept something that was different from their bid? In any event, this is the situation NBC’s in, and they have to make the best of it. So what do they do now?
One theoretical option would be to put Tirico in the Sunday Night Football studio telecast. While this wouldn’t be the greatest consolation prize for him given that he signed on to call the games on the field, at least he wouldn’t be wearing an invisibility cloak. NBC has Bob Costas and Dan Patrick on their studio coverage now. They could move Costas to Thursday nights, giving him a break after the grueling Olympics, and free him up to fully consume the baseball playoffs (and, if the stars aligned, perhaps call the NLDS games on MLB Network).
If Tirico, Costas, and NBC all wanted this to happen, would the NFL allow it, or would they drag their feet again? Tirico did not respond to a message seeking comment, and NBC declined to comment for this story. So far, Tirico has not said anything since the demotion, except for this quick, blunt exchange with Dan Patrick:
Would Tirico ever try to tackle the English Premiership? Last year NBC signed a gigantic new deal with the EPL that runs through the 2021-22 season. Tirico hosted ESPN’s Euro 2016 coverage this summer and the World Cup in 2014; in the studio, NBC already has Rebecca Lowe and Arlo White, who are very good. Would it make sense for Tirico to call EPL games? This turned out to be a disaster for Fox and Gus Johnson. However, Tirico is certainly more understated and therefore naturally appealing to core soccer audiences. Still, NBC has catered to this core demographic for several years now, and its coverage is very English, and throwing Tirico into it would be an immense challenge — and risk — to say the least.
Tirico was already slated to be a part of the network’s golf coverage. Beyond that, there’s the Triple Crown, Nascar, Notre Dame, and some Atlantic-10 college basketball games. Will Tirico be involved in any of those?
The Olympics are a few weeks every two years, and do not appear as though they’ll be the singularly galvanizing event they used to be going forward, especially when you consider time zone issues at the next three in Korea, Japan, and China.
Whatever the case may be, it will be interesting to see what NBC does with Tirico’s time, at the very least in between now and Super Bowl LII in early 2018, when Al Michaels’ contract is up.