Mike Tirico joined ESPN in 1991, a 24-year-old Syracuse University graduate who immediately established himself in Bristol, Conn., as a star on the rise. During his 25 years at ESPN, Tirico developed into one of the most versatile voices in sports broadcasting, morphing easily from college basketball to golf to the NBA. For the last 10 years, he has been the voice of Monday Night Football. He also put in many hours as both a play-by-play voice and host on ESPN Radio.
Most people in-house at ESPN believed the 49-year-old was a company lifer, and understandably so—he owned the best portfolio for any announcer along with Chris Fowler. But on Monday afternoon, Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand reported a story that will have major reverberations at multiple sports networks: Ourand reported via multiple sources that Tirico is leaving ESPN for NBC Sports. None of the parties involved confirmed the deal when contacted by SI, but you don’t need the vision of Ted Williams to read between the lines here.
Tirico’s agent, Sandy Montag, declined comment other than to say: “Mike continues to be focused on the NBA playoffs for ESPN.”
Said an NBC Sports spokesman: “We don't comment on talent or others who are under contract to someone else.”
Offered an ESPN spokesman: “We are declining comment.”
Sunday Night Football executive producer Fred Gaudelli declined comment. Through Montag, Tirico also declined comment.
But none of the above parties suggested Ourand’s information was incorrect.
The possibilities at NBC Sports for Tirico, whose ESPN deal ends this summer, are massive. Ourand reported that Tirico is expected to be the lead play-by-play voice on NBC’s new Thursday Night Football package of five late-season games. The current contract of Al Michaels, the longtime voice of football for NBC, ends after the 2017–18 NFL season. Michaels will be 73 at the end of his contact, but he also remains sharper than ever. At NBC, Tirico could eventually call a Super Bowl, something that he wouldn’t have been able to do at ESPN. NBC Sports suits will have a tough decision to make, especially given they now have two NFL packages.
Tirico replacing Bob Costas as the primetime host of the Olympics is also a possibility. Costas will serve as the lead host in Rio—he has been the primetime host of the Olympics 11 times—but NBC Sports executives admitted two years ago that they have been thinking of a long-term succession plan.
“We said after [the 2014 Winter Olympics in] Sochi we would start to think about what life after Bob might be, whether post-Rio, post-Pyeongchang, post-Tokyo, whenever he does not want to do it anymore,” NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus told SI.com during the Sochi Games. “It is a big time commitment for a host. It is tons of research, tons of preparation and a ton of time away from your family. Certainly, we would be foolish not to be thinking about what a succession might look like. That is part of my job. I think about that for all sports. This obviously is a little bit of a wakeup call and it says make sure you are prepared because that day will come eventually. It's not a theoretical.”
Given his work in golf, Tirico would logically have a role on NBC’s coverage of that sport. He could also help NBC Sports Radio, which has very little national relevance at the moment.
An ESPN source confirmed to SI that Sean McDonough is currently the leading candidate to replace Tirico as the voice of Monday Night Football. (Ourand and Miami Herald reporter Barry Jackson reported the same thing.) That would be an excellent solution given the quality of McDonough’s work. The one downside: McDonough and Chris Spielman have developed into ESPN’s best college football announcing team.
Ryan Ruocco, who has called games with analyst Hubie Brown in the past couple years, could assume Tirico’s NBA role. ESPN also has a number of hosts who could take over Tirico’s host role at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis tournament. A source said Tirico would be allowed to work his remaining assignments through July, which is not insignificant—many broadcasters are told to hit the door immediately when they shift networks.
Whenever the deal details leak out, it will undoubtedly go down as a terrific one for Tirico. Not only will the money be huge—as a reference, ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden earns a reported $6–7 million per year—but the potential portfolio Tirico is walking into is sports broadcaster heaven. On this day, Tirico wins big.