ESPN Making $50M Bet on Aikman, Buck and Manning Brothers to Revive “MNF”

ESPN made its expensive hires of former Fox Sports broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman official earlier this week

A detailed view of the ESPN "Monday Night Football" logo at Lincoln Financial Field
A detailed view of the ESPN "Monday Night Football" logo at Lincoln Financial Field.
Mitchell Leff/Getty

Earlier this week, ESPN made its long-rumored hires of former Fox Sports broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman official.

The duo, who called more than 300 football games over the course of two decades for Fox including six Super Bowls, will earn a combined $165 million over the next five years to call Monday Night Football for The Worldwide Leader, per The New York Post. In addition to paying Buck and Aikman around $33.5 million per year, ESPN is also shelling out an estimated $16 million to $18 million per year to Peyton and Eli Manning to host their alternative MNF telecast.

In total, ESPN is going to be dropping about $50 million per year for Buck and Aikman on MNF and the Mannings on their MegaCast. And don’t forget, that’s on top of ESPN paying the NFL about  $2.6 billion per season for the rights to MNF as part of a deal valued that runs until 2033. That is a lot of bucks to spend on a product that doesn’t bring much bang in the ratings department compared to some of the NFL’s other offerings.

“When you have the opportunity to bring in the iconic, longest-running NFL broadcasting duo, you take it, especially at a time when we are on the cusp of a new era in our expanding relationship with the NFL,” said ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro.  “The NFL continues to ascend, and we now have more games than ever before, providing additional opportunities for Joe, Troy and our deep roster of commentators.”

After years of airing uninspiring games late in the year due to an inability to make changes, ESPN was able to “flex” new matchups into Monday Night Football starting with Week 12 of last season and will continue to do that moving forward. That ability to ensure entertaining games is probably even more important than who is in the booth calling MNF, but at least ESPN is pulling out all the stops to try and revive a franchise that used to be must-see TV. Whether it will have the desired effect on ratings and advertising dollars is another matter entirely.

“While there will be much scrutiny as to how the Buck-Aikman transplant takes, establishing causality is next to impossible when it comes to gauging the impact a broadcast crew has on the Nielsen ratings,” according to Sportico. “As sports ad sales execs never tire of saying, there’s no evidence that any booth combination since the halcyon days of Pat Summerall-John Madden has had a material impact on the size of the NFL TV audience. And given the considerable schedule upgrade ESPN is about to enjoy in advance of its new media-rights deal, next season’s ratings likely would have improved even if Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick had remained on the case.”

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