ESPN's new Monday Night Football team.

While there were plenty of stories about Monday Night Football reschedulings in 2020, there wasn’t a huge amount of talk (good or bad) about the new booth of Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick, which finished eighth out of 15 national booths in our fan-voted announcer rankings. That’s a big step up from the repeated criticisms for the previous booths of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland (in the sideline Boogermobile) and then Tessitore and McFarland in the booth, with both of those booths placing last in our polls. And as per reports from both The New York Post and Sports Business Journal, ESPN sources indicate they’re likely to keep that booth intact in 2021, albeit with a possible shakeup if recently-retired QB Philip Rivers joins the network. Here’s more on that from Andrew Marchand of The New York Post:

The plan at ESPN is for Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese to return as the “Monday Night Football” crew for the 2021 season, according to sources.

ESPN executives felt that broadcast booth righted the shaky MNF ship, appreciated that they weren’t the focus of social media critiques every week and — probably most importantly — believe the trio will build further chemistry with another year together. They also had to debut as a national team while limited by pandemic restrictions.

With that said, the Rivers talk could take an interesting turn because there is a chance ESPN adds more games in the forthcoming new TV rights deals, according to sources. As talks continue between all the networks and NFL executives, the idea of additional games on ESPN/ABC’s schedule in the future has been broached, perhaps in the form of building more MNF doubleheaders.

So it sounds like it’s pretty likely that the current MNF booth will return. However, there is some uncertainty there with Rivers. It’s not for sure that ESPN adding him will lead to a booth change (it’s possible that he could be used just on studio programming, including the MNF pre-game and halftime shows, and it’s also possible that he might just be an additional booth member for selected games), but there is seemingly something to the idea that he might immediately get some MNF placement.

ESPN executives have reportedly long been jealous of the press CBS has received for recently-retired QB Tony Romo’s predictions on upcoming plays, and Griese generally isn’t giving them that. It’s not certain that Rivers would be able to do that the way Romo has, but there’s at least a chance he could. And there are possible ways for that to work for MNF, whether that’s with Rivers appearing as an extra analyst for selected games, or for all games (that’s an awfully-crowded booth, but ESPN seems like a network that might try testing the limitations that way), or for him sliding into Griese’s spot more permanently and Griese returning to college football.

At any rate, the big news here is that ESPN currently seems set to maintain their current MNF booth. And that makes sense; while the Levy/Griese/Riddick booth didn’t necessarily blow many minds, it certainly didn’t take as much criticism as the previous booths, and the middle-of-the-pack rating it received in our viewer poll seems relatively indicative of the popular sentiment towards it. That booth isn’t necessarily set for the long term, and the discussion here around Rivers shows that its footing still may be tenuous, but it at least performed to a level where the network doesn’t need to make a change just to make a change. We’ll see if they do wind up making some changes, whether with Rivers or with other people, but if they do, that’s going to be out of an effort to make a splash rather than an effort to change the previous negative conversation.

[The New York Post]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.