After the first year of its new booth of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, ESPN changed the producer and director for “Monday Night Football.”
The news: Producer Phil Dean and director Jimmy Platt are out, and producer Steve Ackles and director Derek Mobley are in. Platt will be the director for the college football national championship game, and Dean will move to the No. 2 college football team. As demotions go, those are pretty good landing spots.
We spoke about it on last week’s pod, which received some attention, and Awful Announcing’s Sean Keeley published a piece including my comments and quoting some unidentified production people, as well.
So let’s go into what we know after talking to sources not for attribution and speaking with Buck on the record.
1. Let’s be fair: It is not fair to say Aikman or Buck got Dean and Platt demoted, but sources said ESPN executives knew they weren’t satisfied with the leadership of the broadcast. There was frustration with Dean from the booth. Known as a good guy and strong producer, he was a bit too laid-back for Buck and Aikman.
2. Aikman’s and Buck’s feelings were known: Top ESPN executives, including Stephanie Druley, EVP for event and studio production, were aware of Aikman’s and Buck’s feelings. Druley is the one who told chairman Jimmy Pitaro she wanted to make the change.
It was her decision because there were aspects of the broadcast that Druley and Lee Fitting, senior vice president of production, weren’t seeing implemented, according to sources, along with the fact that the booth wasn’t satisfied.
And Buck and Aikman like Ackles, according to sources. Broadcasts happen fast, and you have to be able to have full faith in your producer if you are in a booth.
Mobley apparently could have had the director job when ESPN made a change four years ago, but declined because at that point he preferred sticking on the National Championship and ESPN did not yet have a Super Bowl.
3. ESPN’s Super Bowl game plan: ESPN looks at it this way: First, they got the rights to the Super Bowl. Then they signed Buck and Aikman. Now they think Ackles and Mobley are their best combo as they go toward their Super Bowl in four years.
Ackles and Mobley are a package deal because they have worked together in the past. This impacts the whole crew because they could want their own people on their crew. So some folks who were in line to do the Super Bowl now may not be.
4. Private jets and Zooms: Buck and Aikman do fly in private on game day on some, not all, Mondays. They began doing this when they were calling the No. 1 Sunday afternoon games at Fox. CBS’s Tony Romo arrives to some CBS games late on Saturday for Sunday games, according to sources. In a Zoom world, there is an argument to be made that it is more efficient to travel on this schedule, as opposed to arriving a couple of days prior for in-person meetings with head coaches and players. But you have to maintain the level of the broadcast, which has been an issue for CBS with Jim Nantz’s and Romo’s regression. Buck and Aikman sounded very good this past season.
5. Schism created: However, showing up on game day creates a feeling within a crew that the announcers are the stars and the production folks are the help. Buck and Aikman fly in private, arrive late and leave right after the game ends. It’s not John Madden coming in on the cruiser. However, if they are prepared and sound good, does it matter for the viewer?
6. Here’s the deal: ESPN wanted Buck and Aikman. They paid them a boatload of money. ESPN wasn’t in position to dictate terms about anything. If the network wanted them, it had to agree to let Buck and Aikman do it their way. After one year, ESPN would do the deal again, even if Buck and Aikman are big-time Zoomers and conference call proponents for their prep. They’ve been calling games for more than two decades, which means they have a lot of seasoning — and can get away with it. They sounded good last season. We wouldn’t recommend Tom Brady try it this way as a rookie.
7. Ornery 8?: Aikman likes things a certain way. If you ever watched Aikman on the sideline with the Cowboys, he would scream at his offensive line. This can cause tension, but he won three Super Bowls and has risen in the analyst field to receive a five-year, $90 million deal. There was a disconnect between Aikman and Fox at the end. It’s all part of the package.
8. What is Buck saying: I spoke with Buck before the podcast last week, and he gave me an on-the-record quote.
“Those decisions are made way above us,” Buck told The Post. “We are the new guys on the block. Those are assessed above where we sit. I’m proud about what we all did and where we are going.”
9. What is Aikman saying: Aikman declined a request to interview him. A PR person said he appreciated that I reached out.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated — from the production people to the millionaires in the booth to the executives. That’s the moral of the story.
One shining moment Friday for CBS/Turner’s Jamie Erdahl, who first had to corral Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Tobin Anderson amid the celebration after his team’s epic upset over No. 1 seed Purdue and then asked about his late father, also a coach.
It elicited a tear from Anderson and gave the instant classic even more meaning.
…CBS had to make a change with Greg Gumbel on NFL play-by-play. It is difficult when announcers are not on top of the action, which makes it imperative to act. Gumbel, 76, called Super Bowls, becoming the only African-American to do so as a play-by-player. In 2004, Jim Nantz replaced Gumbel. When I went back into the archives, I found this interesting quote after CBS swapped Nantz into the No.1 NFL play-by-play position and made Gumbel the host of “NFL Today.” “My first choice would have been to continue on,” Gumbel told the Dallas Morning News. Instead Nantz took Gumbel’s spot. Gumbel went back to play-by-play — but was down the depth chart. He will continue to work on the NCAA Tournament as a host. In terms of who replaces Gumbel, Tom McCarthy would figure to be in the running for more games, and Andrew Catalon would be the odds-on favorite to move up the depth chart behind Nantz, Ian Eagle and Kevin Harlan.
…MLB Network’s Intentional Talk will have a new look and sound as Ryan Dempster and Siera Santos will join Kevin Millar on the program. The new setup starts on March 31, the day after Opening Day.
Pac-12 and Apple
For the Pac-12 to reach the $300 million per year mark to basically match the deal the Big 12 received from ESPN and Fox Sports, the most likely platform to pay that at this point would be Apple, as we reported last month.
To be clear, we aren’t saying that is happening, but Apple is the company that could potentially reach that number, and adding Pac-12 rights does fit what Apple seemingly is trying to do in sports. But it figures to be an all-Apple deal.
However, Apple goes on Apple Watch time, which is to say it doesn’t jump for anyone. They didn’t do it for the NFL in its failed negotiations for Sunday Ticket. They didn’t do it for MLS. So if the Pac-12 wants answers by April 15, maybe it gets them from Apple, but it is not a sure thing. It is one of the most powerful and richest companies, and its decision-makers know it.
The Pac-12 could turn back to ESPN/ABC, but the deal that was once on the table — the same $31 million per year per team that the Big 12 got — is no longer there. If the Pac-12 returns to ESPN, it will likely mean it is willing to take less money in exchange for exposure. At this point, a deal with ESPN is not close.
Amazon Prime Video is an option, but they don’t want tonnage. A Friday night game might make sense with the promotion from Thursday Night Football, but, as we’ve said many times, Amazon will only do it if it makes sense. Amazon isn’t going to go crazy for the Pac-12.
This brings it back to Apple. The company is trying to figure out what it is doing in sports on Apple TV+. They have the $2.5 billion all-in MLS deal for a decade. With MLB, they pay $55 million a year in a rights fee and a guarantee of $30 million worth of advertising. Though it is just a start, a college football deal sort of fits in.
That said, Apple is persnickety and takes forever on deals. There is no proof that college sports being exclusively on a streamer would work.
And we don’t know for sure exactly where Apple stands in negotiations with the Pac-12. If not Apple, then who?
There always could be other wild cards, but they aren’t apparent right now. That’s why when University of Arizona president Robert Robbins says he has to see the numbers to compare with what the Big 12 could offer, that is the money quote from his interviews with CBS Sports and The Athletic.
Schein signs up for new SiriusXM term
Adam Schein has agreed to a new four-year deal with SiriusXM, according to sources.
Schein, 45, is one of the better sports hosts going and has become a pillar at the network in the mid-morning before Chris Russo comes on in the afternoons on Mad Dog Radio. Schein began there in 2004.
He will continue his podcast, which will now take on the name, “Rise and Schein.” He is also signed with CBS Sports through next year.
If Michael Kay had retired from radio, we thought Schein could have been a good choice for ESPN New York in the afternoons. Kay strongly considered leaving radio, but ESPN stepped up, and Kay re-signed for multiple years at seven figures per year, according to sources.