Where does Steve Levy stand? One of ESPN’s most indelible faces keeps getting dissed, suffering his latest ignominy this week, when it was reported that Chris Fowler will replace him on the No. 2 “Monday Night Football” crew.
In a selfish business, Levy keeps taking hits for the team. He’s the ultimate company man.
But there’s reason to believe this time could be different.
Levy, 58, has been a signature personality at the WorldWide Leader for three decades, though he’s never quite ascended to the top. In Levy’s “SportsCenter” days, he was overshadowed by a litany of iconic anchors: Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann and the late Stuart Scott.
During his years as a full-time “SportsCenter” anchor, Levy was the network’s signature hockey voice, covering the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs in the booth and the Stanley Cup Finals with Barry Melrose. But when ESPN regained NHL rights last season, they put Sean McDonough in the lead play-by-play chair. While that’s not a knock on McDonough, Levy was once again overlooked.
He was similarly brushed aside in the “Monday Night Football” booth, where he never really received a fair shake, either. His first year took place during the height of Covid, meaning there were no fans in the stands and few traditional trappings. Teamed up with Brian Griese and Louis Riddick, Levy received solid reviews, though it was hard to tell. There was no atmosphere inside of NFL stadiums that season.
The 2021 campaign represented more normalcy, with Covid restrictions largely lifted. But once again, Levy was jettisoned when bigger names came along. Last offseason, ESPN signed Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, shelling out roughly $150 million to provide its MNF booth with the “big time feel” that critics said it lacked.
Unfortunately, that “big time feel” didn’t translate to higher ratings. ESPN’s MNF audience shrank by about 3% last season.
Ever resilient, Levy remained part of the MNF ensemble in 2022, calling a handful of games with Riddick and Dan Orlovsky. By all accounts, they were alright. But Levy’s performance didn’t matter.
Once again, he was sacrificed to fulfill somebody else’s needs.
It’s been reported for weeks that ESPN’s contract negotiations with Fowler, its lead college football game-caller, weren’t going smoothly. ESPN is undergoing another round of layoffs, as part of Disney’s efforts to cut 7,000 employees across the company.
For Fowler, the timing wasn’t right. With ESPN cutting costs, he failed to receive the raise he desired (Fowler was working off a 9-year contract in the $30 million range with ESPN and a separate deal with ABC).
Instead of more money, ESPN decided to hand Fowler more plum assignments, according to the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand. An elevation to the MNF team was at the top of the list.
With ESPN adding five extra games to its schedule, Fowler will receive more opportunities than previous backups–even though he lacks experience calling NFL action.
Up to this point, Levy has always handled his demotions with aplomb. When he lost the main MNF post, he said he understood the pecking order. It’s hard to beat Joe Buck.
“If I would have been replaced by someone like myself at my level, I would have been crushed. Joe Buck is Joe Buck and I get that,” he said on a podcast earlier this year. “My strength — honestly, and what’s really helped me in the business is — I know where I rank. I was never going to be that superstar. When I was doing SportsCenter, Stuart Scott was a superstar. [Scott] Van Pelt has his own thing. I try hard, I work hard, but I know where I stand and I rank.”
Make no mistake: Levy isn’t struggling. He remains one of ESPN’s most visible personalities and has made millions throughout his career.
But he’s never been “the guy;” and to this point, he’s seemingly been OK with that. But this could be a different situation.
Looking back at Levy’s quote about Buck, he said he would’ve been “crushed” if he was replaced by a contemporary.
Well, that just happened. We’ll see how Levy takes the news this time.