Monday Night Football serves as, without question, the highest-profile series on ESPN. College football, from a ratings, profile, and revenue standpoint, amounts to a clear step down.
So the move of Sean McDonough from play-by-play duties on Monday Night Football to college football represents an obvious demotion. ESPN’s press release announcing the move tries to sell it as something other than that.
“Sean is so well-respected at ESPN and throughout our industry and we look forward to his return to college football where he will be a signature voice on many of our biggest games, including the College Football Playoff,” ESPN Senior Vice President, Events and Studio Production, Stephanie Druley said. “Sean is a highly-skilled broadcaster who brings great passion, energy and work ethic to every game he calls. In addition to his premier play-by-play skills, Sean excels at storytelling and setting the scene for the emotion and pageantry of college football, which are such integral parts of our presentation.”
OK. So why not leave those skills and talents on Monday Night Football? McDonough’s quote creates the impression that he wanted to return to the lower-level version of the sport.
“Over the past two years, as I watched college football on television, I realized how much I missed it,” McDonough said. “Being the ‘Voice of Monday Night Football’ was one of the great honors of my life, but I am grateful for the opportunity to return to the unique traditions, rivalries and pageantry of college football and to tell the stories of the participants. I look forward to reuniting with ESPN’s college football team where I have so many close friends in front of and behind the camera.”
The more obvious truth is that, with Jon Gruden leaving, ESPN will be crafting a brand-new booth, with Joe Tessitore taking over the job (he likely doesn’t view the move from college football to Monday Night Football as anything other than a significant step up). The only remaining question is who Tessitore’s partner(s) will be. With Peyton Manning saying no, ESPN has to decide whether to make another swing for the fences or to promote someone from within.
If ESPN ultimately can’t generate the kind of sizzle that the Manning hire would bring, don’t be shocked if they add two to the booth, since the inability of quality to create buzz could force ESPN to rely on quantity instead.