By virtue of owning the NFC package – which includes franchises in the nation’s biggest cities – Fox can rightfully claim the biggest audience for a single NFL broadcast window. The network’s late Sunday doubleheader coverage (it includes multiple games) averaged 27.2 million viewers last year, ranking as the most-watched show on television in households and all key adult demographics. Furthermore, the network’s pregame warhorse – Fox NFL Sunday – has been the most-watched NFL pregame show since its inception in 1994. The show averaged 4.8 million viewers in 2013, up four percent over its audience in 2012 (4.6 million viewers).
Fox Sports made significant offseason changes in the talent department —most notably booting longtime sideline reporter Pam Oliver from its top NFL team – so you’ll see a different look from the network on the game broadcasts than in previous years. Here’s a snapshot of what NFL fans can expect from Fox’s NFL coverage in its 20th year covering the league.
Biggest changes: Management dramatically shifted its game broadcast talent during the offseason. SI broke the story in July of Oliver being removed from the top announcing team after 19 seasons on the sidelines. Initially, Fox management was going to take Oliver off the NFL altogether but eventually conceded to give her one final season. She will work on the No. 2 broadcast team with Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch while Erin Andrews, who Fox Sports management has been pushing heavily across all sports, is now the network’s No. 1 NFL sideline reporter alongside announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.
Veteran Chris Myers returns to call games for the No. 3 team, with analyst Ronde Barber and sideline reporter Jennifer Hale. Newcomer David Diehl, a former Giants lineman, debuts as an analyst alongside announcer Thom Brennaman and sideline reporter Laura Okmin. The former No. 2 team of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa have been dropped in the lineup to No. 5. Donovan McNabb, Brady Quinn and Kirk Morrison have been added as analysts and will rotate on broadcasts with longtime broadcaster Dick Stockton. Justin Kutcher will work as a backup play-by-play voice. Brendon Ayanbadejo will serve as a backup analyst. Peter Schrager will serve as a fill-in sideline reporter.
Talent adds: Diehl, Hale, Kutcher, McNabb, Morrison, Myers, and Quinn. Fox executives are particularly high on Diehl. “David is a bright guy who is really inquisitive and likeable, and that makes any person have the potential to be good on television,” said Fox Sports president Eric Shanks. “Lineman have a certain view of the world that makes their perspective interesting. He sees things on the interior of the line that makes his analysis unique.”
Talent losses: Brian Billick, Kris Budden, Heath Evans, Molly McGrath and Tim Ryan. McGrath has moved to the No. 1 college football team as a sideline reporter. Budden also moves to college football.
Keep an eye on: How much airtime lead producer Richie Zyontz gives Andrews on the Buck-Aikman broadcast. Fox Sports management clearly wants Andrews to get her airtime. With plenty of press for Adam Schefter over the last few months, you know Jay Glazer wants to break something big. Fox will have the earliest kickoff in NFL history when they broadcast the Lions-Falcons on Oct. 26 live from London at 9:30 AM ET.
Ratings of note Fox regular season coverage averaged 21.2 million viewers, an 8 percent increase over 2012-‘13 viewership (19.7 million).
What’s old: Buck and Aikman are the NFL’s longest-running game broadcast team (13 years and counting). Bradshaw, Buck, Long, Stockton and Albert are original NFL on Fox broadcasters and have been with the network since 1994.
On the Redskins’ nickname: “We have been pretty clear both in our communication internally and also externally,” said Shanks. “Until the facts are different, the Redskins are the official name of the team and until the fact is that the Redskins isn’t the official name, rather than make ourselves part of the story, we have said in our promos and such you will see the name Redskins. Now the flip side of that is we are not telling announcers that they have to use the name. Based on anyone’s personal convictions, no other is required to use the name.”
Added Aikman: “As long as their nickname is the Redskins, that is what I am going to call them. That is what I have always known them as and always called them. I am certainly sensitive to the issues but I think if you do broadcast a Washington game and not refer to them at any point as the Redskins is pretty naïve. If the name changes, I will call them whatever that name is but right now it is the Redskins.”
Digital extensions: Fox Sports GO is scheduled to livestream 97 regular-season games and four NFC playoff games. The games will be available on tablets through the Fox Sports GO app and on desktops at www.FOXSportsGO.com. (Due to league restrictions, NFL games are not available through Fox Sports GO on mobile phones.)