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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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How Robert Kraft And The Patriot Way Influenced Latest Media Hiring Wave

  • Dating back to their first Super Bowl win in 2002, there’s been a fascination with coach Bill Belichick’s secretive, successful organization.
  • It helps that Kraft is a key media player, long-known as the league’s most cunning negotiator and power broker.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last two decades, ex-Dallas Cowboys dominated sports TV. This season, viewers won’t be able to turn on NFL games or studio shows without seeing former members of the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.  

TV newcomers like Julian Edelman (Fox) and twin brothers Devin and Jason McCourty (NBC and CBS respectively) will join other Pats who’ve migrated from the field like Damien Woody, Randy Moss, Tedy Bruschi, Rob Gronkowski, Rodney Harrison, Scott Pioli, Matt Cassel and Darius Butler.

They’re setting the table for the GOAT himself — Tom Brady — who signed a monster 10-year, $375 million deal to become Fox’s No. 1 game analyst at the start of the 2024 regular season.

So what’s behind this broadcast changing of the guard? 

Hiring former Pats is a way for networks to provide insight into the vaunted “Patriot Way,” according to ESPN’s Woody.

Ever since the underdog Pats defeated the favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, there’s been a fascination with coach Bill Belichick’s secretive organization — and understanding how he out-coached, out-drafted or, in the case of the 2007 “Spygate,” out-cheated his opponents.

“There’s almost a cloak of secrecy when it comes to the Patriots. People want to know what’s behind the curtain,” said Woody, who won two Super Bowls with the team. “That’s really what our job is all about on TV anyway. … That’s what you get when you not only (hire) former Patriots — but former players in general. 

“Our job as analysts is to take the fans to places they can’t go and give little nuggets they didn’t know themselves. So you get a double-whammy when you hire ex-players from the Patriots.”

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Winning breeds familiarity for viewers, and the Brady-Belichick dynasty enjoyed the exposure from playing in nine Super Bowls. 

Experiencing the gauntlet of Super Bowl Week also helps players become more comfortable in front of the microphone and form relationships with top executives, producers, and directors at networks. That leads to opportunities when their playing days are over. 

As Bleav Network president Eric Weinberger noted: “Winning a ring helps. Being seen in front of a mic helps.”

“People know their names. They have credibility because they’ve won Super Bowls,” pointed out Mike Lombardi, the ex-Patriots assistant turned host of “The GM Shuffle” podcast. Lombardi also thinks Patriots are better prepared to analyze football than most other players.  

He even believes ex-Cowboy Tony Romo’s rapid ascent to the top of the announcer food chain was related to being trained by Bill Parcells, Belichick’s mentor.

“When you play (in New England), you are taught the game of football from the complete perspective by the head coach. Game management, game situations. All those things are part of the daily conversations in the team meeting,” Lombardi said. “That translates into television — and educates the viewers. I think it helps.”

Another factor away from the field: The Patriots’ billionaire owner Robert Kraft  — long-known as the league’s most cunning negotiator and power broker — served for many years as chairman of the NFL’s Media Committee. 

Besides winning Super Bowls, Kraft’s greatest talent has been squeezing maximum rights fees out of longtime NFL TV partners like ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox, said sources. 

He was also a key player in bringing Amazon Prime Video on-board as the league’s first all-digital media partner.

Said Woody: “That does play a part of it. People know the power Robert Kraft has in regards to the National Football League.”

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Finally, it’s about location: ESPN’s Bristol headquarters is smack in the heart of Patriots territory, so it’s natural for Patriots fans and executives at ESPN to hire their favorite players. (There are plenty of New York Jets fans at ESPN, including “Get Up” host Mike Greenberg, which explains why you see plenty of ex-Jets, including Woody, Rex Ryan, and Mike Tannenbaum.) 

But broadcast hiring tends to run in cycles. 

If Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs keep winning Super Bowls, look for their star players to possibly dominate the next wave of TV hiring.

Loquacious tight end Travis Kelce, a two-time Super Bowl winner, has already hosted “Saturday Night Live” and signed with talent agency CAA for off-the-field representation. 

He’s clearly thinking about a future in sports media. After all, fellow tight end Greg Olsen is now the No. 1 game analyst at Fox pending the arrival of Brady next season. 

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