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Friday, June 14, 2024

Can ESPN’s Troy Aikman-Joe Buck Booth Take Ratings Over The Top?

  • ESPN spikes football after landing new No. 1 broadcast team from rival Fox Sports.
  • Monday Night Football coming off best viewership since 2013.
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The best NFL broadcast booths get the biggest ratings, the best game matchups, and the richest advertisers. 

With the signing of Troy Aikman and Joe Buck this season, no NFL TV partner will have a better broadcast team than ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” according to Stephanie Druley, the network’s head of event and studio production.

“Yes, we have the best booth in football. We believe that,” said Druley during a press conference Monday introducing Aikman and Buck. “We sat down toward the end of the season to think about where we were going. We were challenged to say, ‘What’s your pie in the sky?’ I’m now sitting next to the pie in the sky.

“Plan for the best, and yeah, my answer is yes, we have the best booth,” Druley said.

Despite serving two decades as the face of Fox Sports, both Aikman and Buck said there were no hard feelings about their jump to ESPN from Fox management.

“We wouldn’t have been there as long as we had been if they took us for granted or didn’t appreciate the work that we were doing,” said Aikman. “I know that things change. I laugh about that. I wrote a children’s book with that title. So I understand it. I know it happens, and it’s all good.”

The longtime partners will team with sideline reporter Lisa Salters and rules analyst John Parry to create the new MNF crew. 

Down the road, ESPN sees the team calling ESPN’s first Super Bowls on sister Walt Disney Co. network ABC after the 2026 and 2030 seasons.

Aikman and Buck’s record speaks for itself, added ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro. 

They’re the longest-running No. 1 NFL broadcast team, entering their 21st year together. The duo have called six Super Bowls (matching the late John Madden and Pat Summerall). Plus, over 275 regular-season games and more than 40 playoff matchups.

ESPN has struggled in recent years to create an effective MNF booth, bouncing from Jon Gruden, Sean McDonough, and Lisa Salters in 2017, to Jason Witten, Booger McFarland, Joe Tessitore, and Salters in 2018, and finally Louis Riddick, Brian Griese, Steve Levy, and Salters from 2020-2021.

The addition of Aikman and Buck should generate bigger ratings for MNF, which is back in growth mode.

During the 2021 season, MNF delivered its best viewership in eight years. The venerable prime-time franchise averaged 13.5 million viewers per game, up 11% from the year before. The network’s new “ManningCast” with Peyton and Eli Manning, meanwhile, averaged 1.6 million viewers, delivering the network’s eight-most-watched alternate telecasts.

Druley also praised the work of Riddick, Griese, and Levy. “We are very grateful for how they covered the project over the last couple years,” she said.

The network is currently casting a backup MNF crew that will call three games this season and five games in 2023. 

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