When it was announced that Mike Tirico was going to be moving from ESPN to NBC speculation was a big reason for this move by NBC was to preemptively find their replacement for their lead NFL and Sunday Night Football announcer, Al Michaels. Especially as NBC had recently bought the rights to broadcast Thursday Night Football games and it was rumored Michaels did not want to do both sets of games. Therefore, Michaels would continue in his familiar Sunday night games while Tirico would become the lead announcer for Thursday Night Football.
This made perfect sense. Keep Al Michaels where he is familiar and not risk overworking him with 2 games in 4 days. And it’s not like Tirico would just be thrown into the broadcast booth. He was the play-by-play announcer for Monday Night Football, the crown of the NFL’s weekly schedule, for a decade on ESPN. And he did a good job. Just seemingly not good enough for the NFL, who issued a statement saying,
“They are [NBC’s] number one team. We like the idea of having the same booth announcers from Sunday night and Sunday afternoon to carry over to Thursday. We’re hoping for that same magic Sunday Night Football has with Al and Cris to carry over to Thursday night.”
Many took this as a slight aimed at Mike Tirico. That the NFL did not deem Mike Tirico was highest enough quality to call SNF. This would have made zero sense because as mentioned Tirico had been calling MNF, a more high-profile game, previously. But the NFL clarified their stance,
“When we bid out the Thursday Night games, NBC came to us with an impressive pitch to bring the magic of Sunday Night Football — specifically Al and Cris [Collinsworth] and their production team — to Thursday Night. That was very attractive to us as we look to continue to build on the success of Thursday Night Football, and is similar to the deal we have with CBS for their lead broadcast and production team. We came to a contractual agreement with NBC on those terms.
“In fact, when the NFL, CBS and NBC jointly announced the expansion of Thursday Night Football last February, we said: ‘Both CBS and NBC will produce Thursday Night Football with their lead broadcasters and productions teams, and both will contribute to the production of Thursday Night Football exclusively on NFL Network. CBS and NFL Network will televise the first half of the Thursday Night Football schedule with NBC and NFL Network televising the second half.
“Our contract with NBC requires that the Sunday Night team also do Thursday Night. It is up to NBC to determine who the talent is for both nights based on those parameters.”
In other words, NBC is free to use Tirico on TNF as long as he also does SNF, which isn’t going to happen as long as Al Michaels is around. It has now been announced that Michaels will be the lead play-by-play announcer for TNF while continuing to call SNF and Tirico will be the on-site host for Football Night in America on SNF. He will also do play-by-play for 2 TNF games which conflict with Michaels’ schedule.
So for the moment this issue has been resolved. Except it’s not really by NBC’s own choosing. It’s definitely not by Tirico’s choosing as he had moved to NBC at last partially due to the promise of calling TNF and was reportedly upset over the NFL’s decision.
We have repeatedly seen the NFL be able to do things simply because they can, because they feel they have the right. And in some cases they do. Roger Goodell had the right to suspend Tom Brady because the NFL thought he had cooperated fully in the Deflategate investigation. Never mind if it was the correct thing to do, Goodell had the right. Similarly, the NFL forced players named in a since-disparaged Al Jazeera report about PED use to be interviewed by the league, even though it was revealed that the NFL had no new evidence to tie any of the players to actual use of PEDs.
The NFL can. But is there a point at which they can’t? Unfair treatment of players is one thing but effectively abusing broadcast partners may be another. At this point NBC is tied into their broadcast deal but what about when it comes up for renewal? Will this action by the NFL cause NBC or any other potential broadcaster any pause?
No. The answer is no. The NFL beings in ratings, which means money. As long as NBC makes money from their TNF broadcasts it’ll be fine. And this is what the NFL knows. ratings equal money and money equals power.