2011 NFL Broadcasting Guide
Marv Albert joins CBS Sports and will pair with former league MVP Rich Gannon
Fox adds Gus Johnson to its mix of announcers; he'll do a selected schedule
Trent Dilfer gets a primetime role for ESPN, who also brought in Bill Parcells
The most remarkable story in television these days might be NFL viewership. Last year overall ratings were up 13 percent over 2009, and games on CBS, Fox and NBC averaged 20 million viewers, more than twice what networks receive for their prime-time programming. Last season's Super Bowl between the Packers and Steelers set an American television record with 111 million viewers.
Can the numbers keep going up? "It will all depend on the quality of games but I think the concentrated amount of interest in NFL football, because there was such a lack of activity for so long, has helped a lot," said CBS Sports president Sean McManus. "With all the movement and so much activity, I think people are really excited about the NFL season. I've given up trying to predict how high NFL ratings will go because often our most optimistic projections are exceeded. But I think there is certainly room for growth and if you get the kind of season and postseason we had last year, I think anything is possible."
As for the people who bring you the league you love, that's where we come in. Here's SI.com's NFL broadcasting guide to the 2011 season:
The NFL Today -- James Brown (host), Bill Cowher (analyst), Boomer Esiason (analyst), Dan Marino (analyst), Shannon Sharpe (analyst), Charley Casserly (information), and Lesley Visser (reporter).
1. Jim Nantz (play-by-play) and Phil Simms (analyst).
2. Greg Gumbel (play-by-play) and Dan Dierdorf (analyst).
3. Ian Eagle (play-by-play) and Dan Fouts (analyst).
4. Marv Albert (play-by-play) and Rich Gannon (analyst).
5. Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) and Solomon Wilcotts(analyst).
6. Bill Macatee (play-by-play) and Steve Tasker (analyst).
7. Spero Dedes (play-by-play) and Steve Beuerlein (analyst).
8. Don Criqui (play-by-play) and Randy Cross (analyst).
CBS generally eschews major talent changes, so this was an active offseason. The headline addition was Albert, the longtime lead NBA voice for Turner who worked with CBS during the NCAA tournament. He'll team with Gannon, whom CBS management is high on.
"He's a legendary broadcaster with great NFL heritage, and when I got a chance to work with Marv for the NCAAs -- and the first time I worked with him was when I was at NBC in 1980 -- I was reminded what an incredible professional he is," said McManus of Albert. "If you have a chance to add someone like that to your team, you would be sorry not to."
Equally notable was the departure of Gus Johnson, who moved to Fox, as SI.com first reported when CBS opted to part ways with him. Johnson's former partner, Tasker, is now paired with Macatee. Dedes, the 32-year-old radio voice of the Knicks, gets a new partner in Beuerlein. Criqui and Cross will also form a new team. Reporter Sam Ryan left CBS for the MLB Network.
We've said this before: The hiring of Brown in 2005 to stabilize the pregame was arguably the best talent move by CBS Sports in the past 10 years. Nantz-Simms and Gumbel-Dierdorf form the top teams and provide continuity on the big games. The partnership of Eagle and Fouts was a really good listen last season. That's become an excellent team.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED
Every year we offer The NFL Today the same admonition: Tone down the chuckle parade. Given the levels of laughter emanating from the cast, you'd think we were watching The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen. We're not. The pregame crew rarely offers tough questions when in-house guests come in, and while nobody expects this to be 60 Minutes, it also should not be Kathie Lee & Hoda.
Few pregame analysts deliver less than Sharpe for me, though his NFL Hall of Fame speech was stirring and perhaps that portends a better year. McManus said game audio needs to be improved this year. "Audio is a big one and not having the microphones on the players last year was missed by a lot of our viewers, maybe subconsciously without even knowing it," he said. "We are also adding more high speed cameras, which I think will add for viewers."
BEST GAMES (all games ET)
Steelers at Ravens (Sept. 11, 1 p.m.), Chargers at Patriots (Sept. 18, 4:15 p.m.) Jets at Patriots (Oct. 9, 4:15 p.m.), Chargers at Jets (Oct. 23, 1 p.m.), Steelers at Cardinals (Oct. 23, 4:05 p.m.), Patriots at Steelers (Oct, 30, 4:15 p.m.) Chargers at Bears (Nov. 20, 4:15 p.m.), Dolphins at Cowboys (Nov. 24, 4:15 p.m.),Patriots at Eagles (Nov. 27, 4:15 p.m.), Chiefs at Bears (Dec. 4, 1 p.m.), Patriots at Redskins (Dec. 11 1 p.m.), Raiders at Packers (Dec. 11, 1 p.m.), Chiefs at Jets (Dec. 11, 1 p.m.), Colts at Ravens (Dec. 11, 1 p.m.), Jets at Eagles (Dec. 18, 4:15 p.m.), Dolphins at Patriots (Dec. 24, 1 p.m.), Chargers at Lions (Dec. 24, 4:05 p.m.), Jets at Dolphins (Jan. 1. 2012, 1 p.m.).
TRASH-TALKING THE COMPETITION
"This is as strong an [NFL] lineup as we have ever had at CBS Sports, and as strong as any network has ever had." -- McManus.
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT
"I think the moves on paper were great but they have a new defensive coordinator [Juan Castillo] who has never called defense. Also, Michael Vick did not have the same offseason as last year and he looks like a quarterback still trying to learn the system. I do think there are a lot of good things in place. I like the addition of Ronnie Brown but I am still worried about the offensive line. It's is a division where Dallas will be better and I think the Giants defensively are still solid, even with a fragile cornerback area. But I still need to see more from Michael Vick. He did not finish the season very well. The last three or four games you watched, people started to see Michael Vick and kept him in the pocket and challenged him to take it to the next level. The defense might have to carry them early. I think there are a lot more questions than answers." -- Cowher
BURNING QUESTION 1
SI.com: How will Plaxico Burress do this season?
Cowher: He's not like Michael Vick. Michael Vick had to get adjusted to the speed of the game because he had to process information. Plax has his own speed. The question for me is, can he sustain that same pace week in and week out? He's had a couple of years off, and he was a banged-up player before, so the time off might have helped him. Can he sustain it? But I'm very happy for him. He's a changed man. You could see that when we did an interview with him in prison last year. He can be a great inspiration for kids. He is a living example of a guy who has matured on the run.
BURNING QUESTION 2:
SI.com: The Patriots appear to be the class the AFC. How good are they?
Cowher: They are not just a good football team, but, to me, a team with a chip on it's shoulder. They got knocked out by a team that said they would knock them out and that just does not happen to a Bill Belichick or Tom Brady team. They have a lot of veterans in place and I think they've retooled. I think their offensive line is solid. If they get Chad [Ochocinco] to just play football and get anything out of [Albert] Haynesworth, I think Bill likes what he has and you can already see they are playing with a sense of purpose. They'll go as far as Tom takes them but this is a team with a chip on its shoulder.
CBS had the most viewers for its AFC package in 23 years (164.2 million) and last year broadcast the most watched AFC Championship Game ever (54.8 million viewers). The NFL Today ratings were up 19 percent in viewers (4.3 million from 3.6 million) from 2010.
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTER: CBS is just getting its NFL talent on Twitter, but Wilcotts @SolomonsWisdom_ shows he gets the medium, with interesting nuggets and interaction with followers. He also has a sweet handle.
FOX NFL Sunday -- Curt Menefee (host), Terry Bradshaw (co-host), Howie Long (analyst), Jimmy Johnson (analyst), Michael Strahan (analyst), Jay Glazer (reporter), Mike Pereira (rules analyst) and Frank Caliendo (comedian), Pam Oliver (reporter).
1. Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst) and Pam Oliver (sideline).
2. Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Tony Siragusa (sideline).
3. Thom Brennaman (play-by-play), Brian Billick (analyst) and Laura Okmin (sideline).
4. Dick Stockton (play-by-play) and John Lynch (analyst).
5. Chris Myers (play by play) and Tim Ryan (analyst).
6. Ron Pitts (play-by-play), Jim Mora (analyst).
7. Sam Rosen (play-by-play), Chad Pennington (analyst).
8. Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst) and Tim Brewster (analyst).
There's a major behind-the-scenes change as Bill Richards takes over from Scott Ackerson as the executive producer of FOX NFL Sunday.
Former Jets and Dolphins quarterback Pennington impressed in an audition with FOX and will do seven games this season as he rehabs his knee and shoulder and decides whether to continue his NFL career. His first game is the Panthers at Cardinals on Sept. 11.
The popular Johnson, now FOX's lead college football announcer, will calls select NFL games. His first assignment comes Week 4 for the Redskins-Rams. Brennaman's team moves up a slot for the network, which is very high on Billick. Stockton used to work with Davis. His new analyst is Lynch. Rosen and Pennington did practice games this summer and have become a team. Rosen's former partner, Ryan, is now working with Myers.
FOX will give its Transformersesque robot, Cleatus, more airtime -- including its own a Twitter account. Of course, this is the same network that once had a talking baseball named Scooter and we expect Cleatus will produce the same enthusiasm from the audience. In terms of a better idea, FOX will add a "Twitter Ticker" segment to the pregame show. "For a couple of segments, we will show some of the more interesting player tweets about the upcoming games," Richards said. There will also be a new segment titled "Double Coverage," where pregame show staffers will have 90 seconds to debate one hot topic per week.
Former sideline reporter Charissa Thompson moved to ESPN to co-host the ESPN2 afternoon show, Numbers Don't Lie. Sideline reporter Nischelle Turner was not brought back.
FOX's pregame strength is the continuity of Bradshaw, Long and Johnson, a group that has seemingly been together since Woodstock. Menefee has grown nicely into his role after Brown left for CBS after the 2005 season. The top two announcing teams remain the same, as does the team of Pitts and Mora.
It's remarkable to think Buck, Aikman and Oliver have been together for 11 seasons. Buck's continued voice problems bear watching. He has been the subject of consistent vitriol on Twitter and remains a polarizing figure. From this corner, while he's not Michaels, he's a professional on the NFL.
Dr. Z always loved Ryan and Pitts, but not so much Johnson.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED
I'd use Pereira weekly rather than on a case-by-case basis. FOX Sports execs think Siragusa is funny but I've found few fans who share that view. Billick is developing into a solid analyst and I'd like to see him get higher-profile games.
Escape from L.A (studios): Richards said he wanted the pregame show to have a better "live" feel this year. "I want to make it more obvious to the viewer that we have over 60 cameras at games across the country," he said.
Falcons at Bears (Sept. 11, 1 p.m.), Giants at Eagles(Sept. 25, 1 p.m.), Falcons at Bucs (Sept. 25, 4:15 p.m.), Lions at Cowboys (Oct. 2, 1 p.m.), Cowboys at Patriots, (Oct. 16, 4:15 p.m.), Saints at Bucs (Oct. 16, 4:15 p.m.), Bears vs. Bucs in London (Oct. 23, 1 p.m.), Bucs at Saints (Nov. 6, 1 p.m.), Falcons at Colts (Nov. 6, 1 p.m.), Giants at Patriots (Nov. 6, 4:15 p.m.), Packers at Chargers (Nov. 6, 4:15 p.m.), Cardinals at eagles (Nov. 13, 1 p.m.), Saints at Falcons (Nov. 13, 1 p.m.), Bucs at Packers (Nov. 20, 1:00 p.m.), Packers at Lions (Thanksgiving, 12:30 p.m.), Lions at Saints (Dec. 4, 1 p.m.), Falcons at Texans (Dec. 4, 1 p.m.), Packers at Giants (Dec. 4, 4:15 p.m.), Packers at Chiefs (Dec. 18, 1 p.m.), Giants at Jets (Dec. 24, 1 p.m.), Eagles at Cowboys (Dec. 24, 4:15 p.m.), Cowboys at Giants (Jan. 1, 2012, 1 p.m.), Bucs at Falcons (Jan. 1, 2012, 4:15 p.m.).
TRASH TALKING THE COMPETITION
"The game itself is always the number one thing that we're there to do -- and we think we do football better than everybody else." -- FOX Sports president Eric Shanks.
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT
"Michael Vick's biggest challenge is to not fall into the expectations that have been placed on him. A lot of times after a good season there are so many expectations that are placed on a quarterback to do even more than what he did the previous year. It's unrealistic. What is realistic for Michael Vick is to find ways to win football games, and he should understand that duplicating last year may not happen and that's OK. You can still win and not duplicate last year because that was an amazing season. You saw 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions. The quarterbacks that have been able to stay successful on a consistent basis in this league have been able to not worry about expectations of the upcoming season and understand that last year was last year but still find ways to win." -- Pennington
BURNING QUESTION 1
SI.com: Where is Curt Menefee in his development as a studio host?
Richards: I worked with J.B. [CBS's James Brown] for years and I don't have a bad thing to say about him. Curt is getting there in a lot of ways. I don't think Curt is trying to be J.B. He is trying to be Curt and figure out what that is. He is also ego free. Egos would not work on our show and if they did, they sure would not work from the host. You have everyone else with Super Bowl rings and you know where you are.
So I think the thing Curt had to work on was not force his relationships with the guys, kind of feel it out. The one thing it took was time. He went this offseason to Terry's place in Hawaii and Terry called me afterward to say what a great time they had golfing. He's just become one of the guys in that sense, and I think when it comes to the on-camera stuff, the transition to the studio for him had some changes and he really worked at it. He just finished a great season, for sure his best.
BURNING QUESTION 2
SI.com: Are there any essential truths you learned about the media from playing in a big market?
Pennington: In larger media markets, where there's a lot of competition for the story and the scoop, there are shades of the truth that get reported. Reporters and journalists don't want to have the same story and there is pressure on these writers to sell papers and broadcasters to sell newscasts. Players and organizations get frustrated when only parts of the truth are accentuated to be the whole truth.
With a viewer or reader, it is hard for them to differentiate between a columnist and a news reporter. One is opinion. One is fact. Most things that are reported, be it news or opinion, get jumped into the fact category. This is where I think things can be better. But because of the competition -- and I have talked to editors -- the number one goal is to sell newspapers because of the Internet, television and the technology. The number one goal is to make money and sometimes the truth gets compromised because of that.
FOX's regular season games averaged 20.1 million viewers, topping its own mark of 19.1 million set the previous year. FOX NFL Sunday had its highest viewership since 2001, with 5.4 million viewers, and the network says its pregame show beat CBS's The NFL Today by 26 percent on viewership (5.4 million vs. 4.3 million), and ESPN's NFL Countdown by 100 percent on viewership (5.4 million vs. 2.7 million).
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTER
Rules analyst Mike Pereira has held Twitter Q&As with fans on rules questions, a fantastic use of the medium. Former NFL coach Johnson @jimmyjohnson has also embraced the medium after joining in August. (The man tweets more photos of fish than the Gorton's Fisherman.)