By Daniel O’Connell
In 2017 Tony Romo exited the game of football as a player and entered the booth as an announcer, becoming an instant sensation. Finally unencumbered from having to perform as a mediocre quarterback, his elite mental talent could shine. 1 He explained in real time how the quarterbacks on the field were dissecting defenses and, much to Twitter’s delight, regularly predicted plays before they happened. Two things were made exceedingly obvious: One, Tony Romo is incredibly gifted. Two, everyone else sucks ass.
An announcer’s job consists of 3 parts:
- Communicate what is happening on the field to the viewers at home.
- Be entertaining.
- Occasionally pronounce the players’ names right. 2
With this in mind, Announcers can be separated into three tiers:
Tier 1: Tony Romo – Consistently achieves excellence in all three categories.
Tier 2: Chris Collinsworth, Al Michaels, and Charles Davis – Consistently achieves competence in at least 2 categories.
Tier 3: Sucks ass.
The game has evolved dramatically over time, but the broadcasters haven’t. Today’s broadcast booth looks much the same as it did 50 years ago: two boring older dudes tasked with explaining what is happening to the audience at home (although they’re no longer allowed to call the intern “that Jewish kid.”) 3
One is the “Play-by-Play” guy, usually a non-athlete who verbalizes the action on the field in real time, like a toddler pointing out animals at the zoo. A former athlete usually steps in as the “Color” guy. Slouching slightly, as to not tower over his partner, he’s tasked with filling time between plays by providing “color commentary.” He explains the strategy behind the play we just witnessed, and the reasons for its success or failure. In the case of a 3 yard run, which is neither a success nor a failure, he’s obligated to provide a TV-appropriate anecdote about the realities of being in a pile of sweaty men. 10
This model made sense for a very long time. For new fans, announcers are an invaluable resource for understanding the George RR Martin-ass tome of NFL rules. 4 But the fans of today are not the fans of yesteryear. The internet has changed the audience dramatically, and it’s time for broadcasting to catch up. Back in the 1990s, even Brett Favre didn’t know what a nickel defense was. Nowadays, there are twelve year-olds on Youtube breaking down the weaknesses of the cover 2 robber scheme. 5 The old knives just don’t cut it anymore. We Fix the League has the solution: multiple announcing teams that the viewer can choose from.
To implement this kind of choice, the NFL would need to move away from cable TV and toward streaming. We Fix the League has certainly never watched an illegal stream, but our sources tell us that it is entirely possible to view an NFL game in this way. 6 The NFL shouldn’t be resistant to streaming as viewers watch all the same commercials on a stream as they would on TV. The NFL should take this information to the Networks, tell them to get with the fucking times, and offer to sell a service in which they stream full games to cord cutters (anyone under 45) as if broadcast on their original network. The Networks can guarantee their advertisers their ads will get seen, the NFL can more directly control their content, and everyone under 45 won’t have to message a random dude on Reddit each August to learn the name of this year’s illegal website. 7
Now, assuming that the NFL realizes that I am brilliant and they are dumb, and they hire me to wash away their dumbness, let’s dive into the new broadcast options:
Your Standard National Broadcasting Team
The classic. Comes as the preset on every broadcast so as to not scare away grandparents and other cowards. Nothing to say about them that hasn’t already been said by this picture of mayonnaise.
A Local Duo for Each Team
With the ever increasing pool of podcasts and blogs to consume, the average fan today is well educated on their favorite franchise. In comparison, the national broadcasting team can seem like a High Schooler ill-prepared for a presentation. 11 Meanwhile, the rest of the class has actually read the book, loves the book, and has opinions on how the book needs to MOVE ON FROM MATT PATRICIA ALREADY.
They’re often working with outdated and shallow understandings of what a team is. I’ll never forget hearing an announcer refer to the Denver Broncos’ “potent passing attack” in the same season that the reanimated corpse of Peyton Manning totaled nine touchdowns and seventeen interceptions. At one point he got benched for throwing four picks in two and a half quarters. Potent indeed.
There is no shortage of local experts that the NFL could try out. Each fanbase has dedicated bloggers who have spent the last decade obsessively consuming all information related to their favorite team. While players spend the offseason pumping iron, these bloggers spend the offseason arguing over which linebacker is most likely to make the team’s practice squad. 12
Worried about the bloggers’ ability to speak on a microphone? Choose from the hundreds of NFL podcasts that exist. Or choose one particular podcast. Our podcast. (Have I mentioned we have a podcast?)
Worried they’ll be boring? They won’t be! There are a plenty of creators out there who have spent years learning to be entertaining while talking about football. The same way that Brandon Perna is mostly useless in a 3rd and 6 situation, Jason Witten proved to be mostly useless in a media role. Stop taking flyers on the Wittens of the world, and start guaranteeing yourself success by hiring people who have honed the skills necessary to thrive.
STILL worried they’ll be boring? Good news! So was Phil Simms! Your worst case scenario is a lateral move. This is a time to experiment. if they’re a success, bully for us. If not, try out a new duo next year, and keep swinging until we have 32 local announcing duos who know which parts of the team are and are not potent.
Experts Being Allowed to Be Experts
Some people aren’t satisfied by simply knowing everything about one team. These sick freaks have an urge, nay, a NEED to know everything about every player in the league. It doesn’t stop at detailed scouting reports. Fans have developed mathematical formulas breaking down catch likelihood given the ball placement, humidity, and whether or not they sent Jerry Jones a birthday card that year. The internet has proven to be fertile soil for obsessives to inhale more information than ever before. They often then exhale that information in consumable pieces for others to stumble upon, resulting in a feedback loop of more and more increasingly obsessive fans. You learn more about QB play in an hour of scrolling through Derrik Klassen’s twitter than in years of watching color commentators draw on your TV.
So please, NFL, let your experts BE experts! Bring in the best and brightest football minds at your disposal, and tell them not to worry about getting “too in the weeds.” There is no such thing as “too in the weeds.” The “weeds” are responsible for the ever-expanding collection of people most dedicated to consuming your product. Nerds are prey creatures. Give us more weeds to hide in and watch your market share expand.
Here’s where the true experimenting begins!
Football is at its most powerful when watched with others, like the moon landing, or a documentary about how there was no moon landing. It’s a communal event: witnessing a specific piece of history being made in real time with people you love.
When comedy podcasts started, a typical show was an hour long. After realizing that “You’re not my dad!”, they started getting longer. Today most podcasts are two to three hours of comedians thinking out loud, laughing at their own jokes, and shamelessly self-promoting. (Did I mention that we have a podcast?) How is this medium sustainable? Listeners form parasocial relationships with the hosts. They listen to all three hours of the podcast because it gives them the feeling of hanging out with their friends.
Sometimes we can’t hang out with our friends, and some people don’t have friends. Why not supply the communal feeling by letting us watch the game with people who FEEL like friends? They don’t even have to announce the game, just let them chit chat over the top of it. They’ll naturally pull the conversation over to talk about the game when something exciting happens, and in the meantime they can meander through the myriad topics that are more interesting than a 3 yard run. Why not combine the experience of watching football with the experience of listening to your favorite podcast in one new form of media?
Why do announcers even have to be real people? Nickelodeon is hosting an NFL game specifically targeted at children this year. What if it was hosted by Spongebob and Patrick? Sandy as the insightful sideline reporter. A resentful Squidward donning clipboard and headset as the in-studio producer. Mr. Krabbs doing everything in his power to be the featured vendor in the weekly “Look at THIS interesting local food” segment. The ever-scheming Plankton forcing his way onto the field to meet his hero, Bill Belichick.
Nickelodeon isn’t the only one with IP’s to draw from. Now that Disney owns everything short of God (though they’re in talks with his agent) ESPN could have any number of cartoon favorites announce the game. 8 NBC is owned by Comcast, which also owns Dreamworks, so how about Shrek on play-by-play, Kung Fu Panda on Color, with sideline reporting by the horse from War Horse? 9 CBS could celebrate the NFL’s Salute to Service by bringing in Agent Jethro Gibbs from NCIS. Or Agent Sam Hanna from NCIS: Los Angeles. Or Agent Sarah Murphy from NCIS: Boston. (NCIS: Boston isn’t a real show yet, but I have it on good authority Donald Bellisario has to buy a new yacht after forgetting where he parked the last one.)
Why depend on others’ IP? I know people who occasionally watch football who would watch way more if they knew that Nick Kroll and John Mulaney were announcing as “Buck Dirk and Clyde Flandell.” Start making content that expands beyond the world of live football. Make Buck and Clyde animated, hire a writing team, and in addition to the weekly broadcast, put out a sitcom about their day-to-day lives as broadcasters. It’s “Bob’s Burgers” meets “Game of Zones.” Introduce us to their zany families while they navigate a world filled with animated caricatures of real NFL figures. Drew Brees keeps ringing their doorbell to sell “investment-grade diamonds.” Bill O’Brien tries to trade his son for a totaled Toyota Corolla. Tom Brady always carries a thermos full of unicorn blood, etc.
Nothing would break the complete lack of imagination in how NFL games are presented like abandoning the very idea that announcers be based in reality.
If something hasn’t changed in fifty years, there must be room for improvement. Tony Romo proved that the ceiling of the broadcast booth was higher than we knew. Who’s to say it’s not higher still? By adding a variety of announcers, the NFL can capitalize on the shift from cable to streaming, improve the experience for longtime viewers, and bring in new fans.
Hey NFL! If you’re going to be an entertainment company worth $60 Billion, at least try something new. The on-field product is more exciting than ever, but broadcasting still hasn’t instituted the forward pass. We allow corporations of your size to exist for two reasons: One, none of us can find our guillotine (we must have lost it in the move). Two, allegedly y’all are in charge of entertaining us. Step your game up. When you developed your product for television, its chief competition was Lincoln Logs and multi-day hikes to see a dead body. You’re dealing with a new generation, one bored by Lincoln Logs and desensitized to death by marathons of Law and Order: SVU. In 25 years we’ll look back at today’s NFL broadcasts and laugh at their lack of imagination through our jetpack’s oxygen masks. Or, if NFL leadership maintains their current uninspired trajectory, we’ll wonder at how little has changed, our feet planted firmly on the ground.
- Dan thinks he’s pretty good, Andre wrote this joke. ↩
- ”Yannick En-guh-cookie with the sack!”
“Hell of an effort, Bob!” ↩
- Also that intern no longer gets paid. ↩
- In NFL and Game of Thrones alike, player safety does not seem to be a priority. ↩
- Robbing is mean. ↩
- Our sources also tell us that there are hot singles in our area. ↩
- This year: sportzbuttz.gov ↩
- Plus, Ironman is the man cleatus wishes he was. ↩
- Huge Colts and Broncos fan, hates the Dallas Cowboys and the Decatur Glue Factories. ↩
- “Back in my day we’d call those piles the ‘stink-sac'” ↩
- “Um… so the main theme of The Great Gatsby is big hats…” ↩
- To quote Allen Iverson: “We are in fact talking about practice [squads]?” ↩