When Mike Tirico headed from ESPN to NBC in 2016, a big part of his duties was expected to be Thursday Night Football. NBC’s initial press release even included “Tirico will work on an array of high-profile properties including Sunday Night Football, primetime television’s No. 1 show for five consecutive years; NBC’s new Thursday Night Football series (NBC is the only network with two primetime NFL packages); the Summer and Winter Olympics; select golf telecasts; and other big events.”
There was some drama over that in year one, thanks to the NFL’s bizarre insistence on having the “#1 team” call Thursday games, but NBC eventually worked it out by putting Tirico on a Sunday game before some Thursday games, and then won NFL approval to call Thursday Night Football all season in 2017.
So, now that TNF is moving over to Fox for the next five years, what does that mean for Tirico?
Perhaps the most notable thing here is that this removes Tirico’s highest-profile play-by-play opportunities. Now, he’s been very good about handling that before, saying all the right things while the NFL benched him in 2016, and there’s no reason to think he’s going to revolt here or anything. He’s about to become the network’s main Olympic voice thanks to Bob Costas passing that torch, he’s been hosting Football Night In America, he’ll still get to call Notre Dame games, and this move may provide a chance to expand his golf work, either for NBC proper or for Golf Channel. But it’s certainly worth mentioning that his 2018 broadcast schedule as of now just got a whole lot less busy, and a whole lot less high-profile.
And this might push the conversations about Al Michaels’ retirement a little more into the limelight. Michaels, the Sunday Night Football play-by-play voice who’s calling this weekend’s Super Bowl, will be 74 in November. While there are some broadcasters who have continued as a primary national play-by-play voice after that, there aren’t a whole lot.
There’s already been discussion about Michaels’ future, with Richard Deitsch writing in January 2016 that Michaels’ contract ran through this Super Bowl. There hasn’t been any clarification of his contract status recently, but it does look like he’s planning to stay on, with him telling TMZ earlier this month he doesn’t want ESPN snagging Cris Collinsworth, and with his comments to Josh Dubow of The Associated Press last week about retirement:
Michaels points to advice from former Buffalo coach Marv Levy about never considering retirement. He could be in position to stay long enough to match [Pat] Summerall’s record of 11 Super Bowl play-by-play broadcasts.
“If you think about retiring, you’ve already retired,” Michaels said. “That rings in my ears. I have a great amount of passion for what I do. I love what I do. I work with the greatest people I’ve ever worked with in this business top to bottom. I still get excited going to the games. I love walking into a stadium. I love sports.”
It doesn’t sound like Michaels is eager to leave. And yes, it’s possible that he could work another Super Bowl (NBC’s next Super Bowl broadcast will be in 2021, and Michaels will be 76 then) and tie Summerall’s record before retiring. But it might have been a lot easier for NBC to keep Tirico happy to stay as the eventual replacement for Michaels if they still had Thursday Night Football.
There might be more pressure on Michaels to retire at some point soon thanks to this decision, with that pressure not necessarily coming from Tirico, but maybe even from a budgetary perspective. It’s harder to justify a bunch of big-ticket broadcaster contracts when you have less big-ticket events.
Of course, it’s quite possible that Michaels could stay around for years and that Tirico wouldn’t go anywhere in the meantime. It seems unlikely that he’d leave, as he does have quite a few high-profile opportunities at NBC, especially as he’s becoming more central on the Olympic side. (And they have those rights through 2032, so there’s no fear of that gig going away.) Between Olympics, hosting Football Night In America, calling some Notre Dame games, and doing some golf work, it is far from a bad job for Tirico, and maybe they’ll be able to find some other things for him to do.
Tirico’s 2016 comments to Richard Deitsch about not being able to call TNF that year are perhaps relevant:
“The assumption was just made when I got hired by NBC that I was hired to do Thursday Night [Football] but nobody ever said that,” Tirico said. “When I had to make the decision on making the move [from ESPN to NBC], one of the questions I had was regarding staying involved in the NFL and how much real estate was there at NBC. With NBC getting Thursday Night Football, it added to the real estate, but I wasn’t coming here to do play-by-play or coming to work that night. It was, ‘I’m going there and it will be a long-term play for me.’
“I knew what the contract was [with the NFL] and that they had to guarantee certain talent for both networks. So when I came here, I thought there was enough going on at NBC that there was a place for me. Everyone made an assumption and I guess that is just a lesson in how dangerous things can be because that was not the case when I signed. It was we are going to figure this out as we go through, and this is now where it has ended up and I am perfectly fine with it.”
It certainly doesn’t sound like TNF was the main or the only thing that Tirico came to NBC for, or that losing it is going to necessarily be a crisis for him. But in addition to its other benefits for NBC, the TNF package was a nice way to keep Tirico active in NFL play-by-play while waiting for Michaels’ retirement. With its departure, there are more questions about what Tirico’s NBC role will be while waiting for Michaels to retire, and more questions about just when that retirement will come.