Posted: Thursday February 9, 2006 10:04AM; Updated: Friday February 10, 2006 10:14PM
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Thanks to the exorbitant salaries of athletes, I used to think the biggest disconnect in sports was between fans and players. But now, I'm beginning to think it's between television networks and fans.
On Wednesday, ESPN announced that the broadcast team for Monday Night Football next season will be Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser. All I can say is, ugh. Actually, I have one more thing to say. Why?
Announcers can make a viewing experience less enjoyable more than they can make one more enjoyable. Most fans would be happy if the networks kept things as simple and as no-frills as possible. All we want is a play-by-play guy who won't try to be a comedian (see, Buck, Joe) instead of a broadcaster and an analyst who doesn't feel the need to talk non-stop and lecture us after every play. It would also be nice to have an analyst who admits he's wrong once in a while, but beggars can't be choosers. There's no need for a third man in the booth, either.
So what does ESPN give us? A three-man booth that features an analyst who is extremely unpopular and a sportswriter with no game broadcast experience. I have nothing against Tony Kornheiser, and I know his television show, Pardon the Interruption, has a loyal fan base. But I'd be willing to bet that the people who watch PTI already watch Monday Night Football. It's not like Kornheiser is going to bring new viewers to the telecast. He's not going to juice the rating, which is the bottom line for the networks. And I'm not saying Kornheiser won't be amusing in the booth, but his presence is not necessary. He'll be there to add humor but NFL fans don't need humor when they're watching a game.
As for Theismann, there isn't another announcer in any sport who generates more ire. For example, throughout the season SI.com's Dr. Z regularly has his inbox flooded with complaints about Theismann's work. I wrote a column after wild-card weekend, when Theismann worked on the Redskins-Bucs game, and the e-mails bashing the analyst came flying in. Does ESPN not know he's unpopular, or do they just choose to ignore this fact?
Regardless of ESPN's intentions, the bottom line is that the fans -- as usual in sports -- don't get what they want, despite being clear about what they don't want. I guess, however, it could've been worse. ESPN could've put Stephen A. Smith in the booth.