There were marginally bigger things happening in the world last night, so you’d be forgiven for missing the news—first reported by the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand—that Troy Aikman is expected to leave FOX, his broadcast home since retiring from the Cowboys in 2000, for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Per Marchand, the deal will run through the 2027 Super Bowl at an annual salary that “is expected to approach or exceed the neighborhood of Tony Romo’s $17.5 million per year contract with CBS.”
Which is a hefty bag of cash for a color commentator—and, yet, I get it.
Monday Night Football’s influence has withered over the last decade. Rights packages have plenty to do with that: slick as NBC’s Sunday Night Football presentation may be, its surge to supremacy is largely due to the games it airs. Rarely does the week’s marquee matchup fall on a Monday anymore, and no broadcaster, not even one as iconic as Aikman, can fix that.
But just as the football has been watered down, so, too, has Monday Night Football’s broadcast quality. Ever since Al Michaels fled to Sunday nights, ESPN hasn’t fielded a broadcast team on par with Aikman and Joe Buck or Michaels and Cris Collinsworth: one that provides a signature aesthetic, beckoning casual fans to plop down on the couch and spend a few hours with them watching the game. The closest they’ve come was this season’s Manningcast on ESPN2. The entire conceit of the fantastic (and fantastically fun) reimagining of a football broadcast was Peyton and Eli Manning and various guests drowning out the suits ESPN pays to call the action on the main channel.
So, yeah, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and the insightful Aikman will surely provide it. Reasonable minds can differ on whether he’s the very best football analyst working the pro game or merely in the upper echelon. What is beyond reproach is his cachet. He is recognizable, even revered.
His new home could use more of all of that. Pair him with a play-by-play man of his caliber—the rumors are already flying, naturally, about an eventual reunion with Buck—and the most-storied brand in football broadcasting will be on the way toward establishing an identity rooted in something other than its glorious past. At the very least, Aikman will give ESPN’s viewers less of a reason to change the channel to someone else talking over him.