Jason Kelce, Scott Van Pelt, Bill Belichick and Troy Aikman Monday Night Football Jason Kelce, Scott Van Pelt, Bill Belichick and Troy Aikman

Considering what ESPN pays for the rights to Monday Night Football on an annual basis, there’s no questioning what the weekly primetime NFL game means to the Worldwide Leader.

But while the network has increased its commitment to the league’s most storied showcase in recent years, its investment in MNF has gone from adequate to borderline excessive.

ESPN’s latest addition to its true flagship program comes in the form of The Athletic’s Andrew Marchand reporting that the network is hiring Jason Kelce to join its Monday Night Football pregame show with Scott Van Pelt. That comes one week after the sports media insider reported that Bill Belichick is expected to have a reoccurring role on ESPN’s ManningCast Monday Night Football alternative broadcast, in addition to having a weekly appearance on The Pat McAfee Show on Mondays.

In landing Kelce and Belichick — the latter of which will technically be employed by Omaha Productions, which has a partnership with ESPN — the Worldwide Leader effectively secured the two most coveted targets in the most high profile sports media free agency class in recent memory.

If this was the NBA in 2003, think of Kelce and Belichick as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, two can’t-miss prospects who would bring instant credibility — and eyeballs — to whichever network they landed with. After Belichick’s stellar debut during The Pat McAfee Show’s Draft Spectacular last week, it’s fair to wonder which one is James and which one is Anthony.

That both landed at ESPN is somewhat surprising, especially considering that CBS’s The NFL Today is overhauling its current cast and Amazon continues to be a player for sports media talent. What isn’t surprising, however, is that the network is signing Kelce and Belichick with Monday Night Football in mind, which continues its recent trend of upping the ante when it comes to its presentation of the primetime game it pays $2.7 billion a year for.

Just think about what Mondays this fall will look like on ESPN. Belichick on McAfee. Kelce with SVP, Ryan Clark and Marcus Spears on the pregame show. Arguably football’s top broadcast team in Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. And SVP on the SportsCenter postgame show.

It’s crazy to think that it was just three years ago that ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth consisted of Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick. No disrespect to any of them, who each did admirable jobs in a difficult situation. But their star power was hardly representative of the NFL’s — and ESPN’s — premier program.

If the Levy/Griese/Riddick booth was intended to be a bridge to MNF‘s next era after the failed Jason Witten experiment following Jon Gruden’s nine-year run in the booth alongside Mike Tirico, then this is what ESPN was building to. It started with the hiring of Aikman and Buck from Fox in 2022 and continued with Van Pelt taking over pre and postgame duties last season. As for the ManningCast — which started in 2021 — it remains a work in progress and still isn’t a part of every MNF game each season. But the addition of Belichick, as well as ESPN’s extended partnership with Omaha signals the network’s commitment to digital, especially with its own direct-to-consumer streaming service on the horizon.

While some have questioned how much broadcasters matter compared to the game itself, that’s clearly not a theory ESPN subscribes to — or if it is, it’s not one it’s letting dictate its decisions. And although it will ultimately be the quality of its schedule’s matchups that drives MNF‘s success, ESPN is clearly doing all that it can to ensure that its presentation’s off the field matches the star power on it.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.