One of the biggest shocks of the sports media year was veteran play by play announcer Mike Tirico leaving ESPN after working over two decades for the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports and moving to NBC. Tirico had been such an ESPN stalwart, from Monday Night Football to Wimbledon to the World Cup, that it was almost impossible to see him working with another network’s logo on his mic flag.
But this Sunday there was Tirico, calling Sunday Night Football alongside Cris Collinsworth for Broncos-Chiefs and subbing for the venerable Al Michaels. After a bizarre tug-of-war with the NFL, NBC was finally allowed to have Tirico broadcast a regular season primetime game and the results were great. Tirico has filled in seamlessly with Collinsworth thus far and showed that he’s ready to step in at any time to continue NBC’s run with Sunday Night Football as one of the elite broadcasts in all of sports.
Mike Tirico & Cris Collinsworth have been excellent together this week. So absurd Dictator Goodell but kibbosh on Tirico calling Thurs games
— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) November 28, 2016
I have fallen in love with Tirico and Collinsworth and I feel guilty for cheating on Michaels
— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) November 28, 2016
Tirico/Collinsworth are an absolutely fantastic duo it should be noted. Can't get enough, & unfortunately this season, we won't.
— Greg Brady (@gbradyradio) November 28, 2016
Tirico calling primetime NFL games for NBC is on one hand a short-term move so that Michaels can get some rest when the network pulls double duty between Thursday nights and Sunday nights. However, it’s also a long-term play because Tirico will be calling Sunday Night Football well into the next decade as soon as Michaels decides to retire.
The dual track for Tirico at NBC is a very important distinction to make as to why this move is working out so well and looks to be such a huge success. A few years ago NBC shook up the media world by signing Josh Elliott to a sports broadcasting deal after a star-making run on Good Morning America. However, NBC had nothing for Elliott to do in the short-term while he waited for Bob Costas, Matt Lauer, or someone to step aside and allow him the leading role that he deserved. When it never materialized, Elliott was stuck doing obscure features and sidebar hosting duties with no pathway to move up at the network. It was no surprise when Elliott and NBC’s relationship ended early and he moved on to CBS News.
With Tirico, it’s clear the hope is for him to be the face of NBC Sports over the next 20 years. He’s still amazingly on the south side of 50 years old and has a number of years in the broadcasting industry ahead of him as a lead voice. While it’s a mortal lock that he’ll be the long-term voice of Sunday Night Football, there’s also the chance that he could be the primetime host of the Olympics once Bob Costas finally does call it quits as long as NBC has the rights. Those gigs are arguably two of the top five most prestigious jobs in all of sports media right now and it’s conceivable Tirico can have them both in five to ten years.
And although it might be a stretch to say this, it could open up even more possibilities in the years to come for NBC. With Tirico being so versatile and respected, perhaps there’s a door that will open to bring the NBA back to the network with a limited package or Wimbledon. Who knows, we may see Tirico on NBC’s acclaimed English Premier League coverage before all is said and done.
Nevertheless, all of that forward planning isn’t worth much if there’s nothing happening in the here and now, and that’s what NBC learned from the failed Elliott tenure. Tirico has already made an instant impact at the network. In just a few months, he’s served as a Summer Olympics host, Ryder Cup and British Open host, and called football games for not only the network’s NFL coverage but for Notre Dame football as well. For NBC, that only means that each of those broadcasts can only get better with someone as good as Tirico being a major part of them.
In the wake of many high-profile departures from ESPN (Simmons, Cowherd, Olbermann, Whitlock, Nessler, Bayless, etc.) Tirico’s may have been the most surprising and the most meaningful in both the short-term and the long-term. While FS1 made a lot of noise going after the ESPN Embrace Debate recyclables, the viewership for all of those shows combined aren’t even in the same stratosphere as Sunday Night Football. (You can even throw Bill Simmons’ lightly-watched Any Given Wednesday into that mix as well.)
Sunday Night Football is the most watched show in all of primetime – not just in sports, in all of television. NBC had to get it right when thinking about their increased load of primetime games this year and looking into the future and they accomplished just that by bringing in Mike Tirico. His partnership with Collinsworth is already one of the best around and one that football fans will certainly be looking forward to hearing more of in the years to come.
When we look back on all these sports media moves from the mid-2010’s, we’ll likely be saying that Tirico’s move from ESPN to NBC was the biggest of them all and it probably won’t be close.