This week saw plenty of discussion of the idea of Alex Rodriguez moving off ESPN’s main Sunday Night Baseball feed, with Andrew Marchand of The New York Post writing Wednesday that ESPN was “considering a Manningcast-type broadcast for Alex Rodriguez” and was looking at revamping the main booth as well, bringing in YES’ David Cone and pairing him with existing ESPNers Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez. (For the last two years, the main booth has seen Rodriguez as the only analyst alongside Matt Vasgersian, but Vasgersian’s ESPN exit in October meant there would be at least some change for 2022.) Late Thursday night, Marchand and Darren Rovell of The Action Network both relayed that the alternate feed was happening, with YES’ Michael Kay joining Rodriguez for that.
And on Friday morning, ESPN officially announced the SNB changes, with their release also noting contract extensions for Ravech, Perez, and Rodriguez, and saying that the Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod alternate feed will be there for eight weeks out of the 25. Kay and Cone will continue to work with YES as well. Here’s more from that release on the Kay-Rod feed in particular:
As part of ESPN’s overall Sunday Night Baseball coverage strategy, it’s launching Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod – a special viewing presentation to air on ESPN2 alongside the traditional ESPN game telecast for eight Sunday Night Baseball games. The presentations will feature World Series Champion and analyst Alex Rodriguez and YES Network play-by-play voice and ESPN Radio host Michael Kay. Rodriguez, who hit 696 home runs and won three M.V.P. awards in his storied career, has also reached a multi-year contract extension with ESPN and returns for his fifth season as an analyst.
The eight Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod presentations on ESPN2 will coincide with ESPN’s highest-profile rivalry games, including the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox. In addition to discussion and analysis, the telecasts will integrate fantasy baseball, predictive analytics and special guests tied to the game.
Rodriguez and Kay will appear on site for select games, while appearing live from their home studios for other games. Rodriguez and Kay will also serve as ESPN’s main broadcast team for two exclusive ESPN MLB regular-season games. Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod is the latest in ESPN’s long, multi-platform history of special viewing presentations dating back to 2006 across its MLB, NBA, College Football, College Basketball, NFL and Little League properties, among others.
As noted there, the idea of alternate feeds (or “special viewing presentations”) goes back well beyond this year’s ManningCast. But the ManningCast’s success and visibility on regular-season games (rather than playoff games or championships, where many of the alternate feeds have usually come up) definitely helped open the door for this. And this may make some sense, shifting Rodriguez into more of the conversational and studio role he’s often impressed in at Fox, while bringing back a more traditional booth for the main Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. But a lot of its success will depend on how well Kay and Rodriguez interact here, and also on how much interest there is in watching Rodriguez on an alternate feed like this. And on that front, it’s also notable that they’re trying this on just eight of the 25 Sunday night games, less than a third of the broadcasts; that may help those particular ones feel bigger, and it commits ESPN to less here initially, but it’s tough to establish a rhythm for viewers when the alternate feed’s only sometimes there.
At any rate, this is certainly a notable change for Sunday Night Baseball, both with the new main booth and the new Kay-Rod alternate feed. And it’s worth mentioning that SNB is going to be the main part of ESPN’s full-network MLB broadcasts this year; under their new deal, they have 30 overall games, with 25 of those the SNB ones (and other high-profile ones, like Opening Day, which will feature the SNB crew). That’s a long way from the 90 games they had previously, but it makes some sense for them to move away from weeknight, non-exclusive games that weren’t providing great results (with fans of those teams usually watching on local RSNs instead). And they will still have some of that tonnage, just on ESPN+ instead, where they’ll have a game most days, but with those subject to local blackouts. Those changes dial up the importance of SNB, though, as these SNB games are now the main ESPN-produced broadcasts. And we’ll see how the changes are received by fans.