We’re still months out from the start of the relaunched XFL’s first season in February, but we now know some of the people who will be calling the games on Fox and ESPN. Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reports that each network has chosen its top team:
On ESPN, the trio of Steve Levy, Dan Orlovsky and Pat McAfee will be on the call of the network’s top XFL games, while Fox’s top team will consist of Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt, according to sources.
Marchand’s piece notes that Gus Johnson was considered for the Fox games, but that that would conflict with his college basketball schedule. Instead, Menefee will be the top play-by-play man, and it’s interesting to see him return to that role. Menefee has been the full-time host of Fox NFL Sunday since the 2007-08 season (he actually started there in 2006-07, but shared hosting duties with Joe Buck that year), but he’s done a lot of play-by-play over the years.
Menefee did national NFL play-by-play for Fox from the late 90s until he stepped into the Fox NFL Sunday role. That time also included work on NFL Europe broadcasts, so he has some experience covering a less-prominent league. He also called a national NFL Network game last year, and he’s done preseason play-by-play for the Jaguars (2005-07) and Seahawks (2009-present).
It’s also interesting that Klatt got the top analyst job. He’s been with Fox nationally since the 2013 FS1 launch, and he did Fox regional sports network work before that, so he’s quite the Fox veteran at this point. And while most of his work there has been on college football, he’s done some NFL, MLB and golf hosting as well.
The ESPN picks are also notable. Levy has been at ESPN since 1993, and has played a large role in their college football coverage in recent years. He initially called college football for them from 2002-06, then returned to that role in 2016, and he’s been calling some big games for them recently alongside Brian Griese. He also called the back half of this year’s Monday Night Football opening doubleheader alongside Griese and Louis Riddick.
Meanwhile, Orlovsky only joined ESPN in 2018, but has been doing a lot there; he contributes to several studio shows, and he’s been a regular college football analyst for them, working with Clay Matvick last year and with Bob Wischusen (in Brock Huard’s old spot) this year. And McAfee only joined ESPN this year (for Thursday night college football, or is that karaoke?), and also has deals with Westwood One and DAZN, but his work with WWE and enthusiastic NFL on Fox commentary should make him a good fit for the XFL. Marchand also mentions that Orlovsky and McAfee have appeared together on ESPN morning show Get Up, so there’s some previous experience there.
Of course, there are still a lot of details yet to come about these broadcasts. ESPN and Fox will both have a second team, and it’s not yet clear who will be on that. Marchand also wrote that Fox is waiting to see what the level of access will be before deciding on whether to use someone who’s more of an analyst or more of a sideline reporter with their top team, while ESPN is expected to use Dianna Russini on the sidelines.
There’s also still a lot to come with the XFL in general, as we haven’t even reached their Oct. 15-16 draft yet. They announced draft details Monday, complete with plenty of twists on the standard format. Those include league-assigned quarterbacks and rounds focused on drafting different position groups.
We’ll see the XFL can do better than the AAF did, but it does bode well for the new league that it appears to have a better financial foundation (it’s backed by Vince McMahon, who’s already sold a lot of WWE stock to fund this, whereas the AAF’s initial investors didn’t seem to actually have much money in the end). It also already has some brand recognition thanks to the first XFL. And they managed to get an impressive broadcast deal even after the AAF’s failure, and these reported broadcaster assignments suggest that both ESPN and Fox are taking this seriously and assigning well-known names to the league. We’ll see how these broadcasts turn out when the league kicks off in February.