ESPN hopes to enter 2022 with an all new Monday Night Football booth, but it may be a very familiar sound to NFL fans. Troy Aikman is reportedly headed to the Worldwide Leader on a 5-year, $90 million deal to bring them the big name analyst they’ve been desperately chasing since Jon Gruden went back to coaching.
In an ideal world, ESPN would not pair Aikman with current play-by-play man Steve Levy, and have apparently focused their efforts on his longtime partner at Fox, Joe Buck. The problem for ESPN is that Buck is under contract for one more year, and they’ll have to work out a deal with Fox in order to get him into the Monday Night Football booth in 2022. Jim Miller, who literally wrote the book on ESPN, reported on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina that he’s heard that ESPN and Fox are talking about what it might take to get Fox to let Buck walk before his deal runs up (transcription via Awful Announcing).
“In the ESPN book, I wrote about Al Michaels, and there was a Disney character of course, famous Oswald, that was part of the deal to let Al out early. But now, I think what’s been going on behind the scenes, and I’ve heard this from various people, is that there’s some real horse trading. I mean, look, does Fox want to keep Joe if Joe’s going to be unhappy? No. But do they want to be able to monetize this in myriad ways in order to really get some flesh out of ESPN? Absolutely. And what might that mean? You know, if I’m Fox, I might ask for two or three Big Ten games. You can be as outrageous and greedy and audacious as you can in this situation, because at the end of the day, look, it’s ‘Joe does a great job, and we don’t want to get rid of him. If you guys want to have both of those guys together, then you’re going to have to pay.’”
Buck, of course, is not just Fox’s lead for NFL broadcasts, but is also their top baseball play-by-play man for the World Series, so losing him would require the network to find replacements on their two biggest sports properties. As Miller notes, that likely means they’ll be asking for a considerable amount from ESPN and it’s a matter of how much ESPN wants to avoid putting someone in a stopgap position for 2022, since they could theoretically just nab Buck in 2023.
All of it makes for fascinating conjecture, and it is rare we get to see sports media trades go down like this. The idea of swapping some rights to college football games seems to be Miller’s idea, not necessarily reporting, but things could get weird if ESPN is set on the idea of getting their longterm Monday Night booth settled this season.