Today, ESPN announced the biggest move in recent history for the company: the signing of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. We've known about the moves for a while now, but nothing is official until the PR release gets sent out, and on Wednesday, it came. Per ESPN:
ESPN has signed acclaimed play-by-play commentator Joe Buck and leading football analyst Troy Aikman to multi-year deals, as the NFL’s longest current booth pairing and Pro Football Hall of Fame members will become the new voices of Monday Night Football.
As part of the agreement, Buck and Aikman will both contribute content to ESPN+, with more details to be announced at a later date.
As we've detailed on this here website, it's an industry-shaking move. Buck and Aikman were the top FOX pairing for over a decade, while ESPN has shuffled through MNF booths over the last five years trying to find the right combination. Now FOX has to find replacements for their No. 1 booth along with a new World Series announcer and ESPN has a long-term booth they can build around for the next five years.
But, just as in sports, springing for the brand name requires cash. Lots of it. Acquiring Buck and Aikman was no different. On Wednesday, Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported Aikman's deal will pay out $90 million over the course of five years.
On Wednesday, Marchand also reported on Buck's deal: a $75 million agreement for five years. Per the New York Post:
On Wednesday, ESPN officially announced that Buck and Aikman have left Fox for “Monday Night Football.” Aikman, according to sources, has signed a five-year, $90 million contract, tying CBS’ Tony Romo for the largest yearly NFL TV salary, while Buck has inked a five-year deal for $75 million.
Put all together, ESPN reportedly shelled out a cool $165 million to steal the two from FOX. Aikman was a restricted free agent of sorts who, in retrospect, was likely to leave FOX this offseason regardless of ESPN's involvement. And it seems Buck was spurred to action by the departure of his longtime partner with his own contract set to expire in 2023. The Worldwide Leader saw its opportunity and took it, sparing no cost in the process.
Will it be worth it? It's hard to say. Over $160 million for two individuals is a lot of dough. Aikman is making as much money as Tony Romo annually and Buck is now the highest-paid PBP announcer we know of. The previous group of Steve Levy, Louis Riddick, and Brian Griese didn't have nearly the same level of name recognition but still helped deliver a stellar year ratings-wise in 2021 for MNF.
It is the cost of doing business with football, though. The revenue ESPN will generate thanks to Buck and Aikman's presence will likely pay for their salaries sooner rather than later. It also helps further legitimize the four-letter network in the eyes of the NFL. They hold the MNF rights now, and when deals are up for renegotiation later this decade, the league knows ESPN is willing to invest huge amounts of dough into their product. Buck and Aikman help both now and later, even if they leave once their contracts are up.
It's a turning point for ESPN. The network hopes Buck and Aikman will take Monday Night Football to a completely different level. That's why they're shelling out as much money as they are. Time will tell if the investment is justified.