FOX Now Has Tom Brady, But They Shouldn't Spike the Football Yet
By Kyle Koster
The wide receiver market is only surpassed by the announcing market in terms of exploding sectors. A full-on arms race has broken out with networks willing to pay whatever it costs to land high-profile voices to augment their NFL coverage. Tony Romo nuked the existing ecosystem and is responsible for tens, if not hundreds of millions worth of new contracts for people not named Tony Romo. During an active offseason, Fox Sports had been noticeably muted as its No. 1 booth of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman fled for Monday pastures at ESPN after nearly a quarter century of Sunday afternoons. Immense nerds who are interested in this type of stuff had genuine concerns about the path forward for Fox, or dutifully offered concern-trolling to fill conversation.
But seismic news at an earnings call, delivered perhaps poetically by Lachlan Murdoch considering the talent's politics, changed all that. Tom Brady will become the lead analyst for Fox once he retires from football. Like, actually retires. Not the fake retirement he just did. And honestly, may do again, leaving the network in limbo. Conspiracy theorists could argue Brady has already left his future television partner in the lurch over the past few months, depending on the timeline of events following Buck and Aikman leaving.
This is, without a doubt, an enormous coup. One that took place under the cover of darkness as even the most dogged of sports media reporters were unable to shore it up before a surprise announcement on a Tuesday morning. Brady is one of the most famous athletes in the history of sport. A carefully crafted image, replete with a whole team of social media managers, has made him the darling of the over-40 sect who love nothing more than to gorge themselves on vanilla and dad jokes. It makes NBC's pursuit of Drew Brees, who has proven to be very much a work in progress, look like a major miss. He's bigger than Peyton Manning, the previous record-holder in the extremely-thirsty-for-this guy standings.
Before Fox spikes the football, though, they should know that this process is destined for multiple lengthy reviews. Brady has already shown a Ross Perot-like penchant for changing his mind. Even those who have nuked their long-term memories to oblivion can recall that whole messy bit a few months ago when he hung up his cleats, then went out to the garage to retrieve them, along with his Tampa Bay Buccaneers regalia.
Then there's the possibility that Brady won't retire for a long time. Pay no mind to the fact that he'll be 45-years-old the next time he plays a competitive football game. If we're to take him at his word — and honestly at this point that word should come with a dousing of salt — the seven-time Super Bowl winner would love to play until he is 50. It would still be exciting for Fox to introduce Brady's first booth appearance in 2027. It's also a tremendously long time to wait. Want to feel old? Kenny Pickett will be 29 by then.
While other networks have been spending money on announcing talent like they're in a Brewster's Millions sequel, Fox has been holding steady. But the Brady deal will come with an astronomical price tag. While my colleague Liam McKeone envisions a comparatively network-friendly deal, my first guess is that Brady will require, at minimum, $20 million per year to grace televisions. Anyone confident enough to put a cap on the high-end is braver than myself without any additional information.
One should consider what Brady would presumably be leaving on the table. His Man in the Arena series at ESPN will either cease to exist or Fox will have to pay him for that content, as well. The specter of Manning holding out for years until he could use his leverage and production company to create the ManningCast looms over this situation. Brady is both a committed and savvy business person who understands his value. Terms of the FOX agreement won't be coming across the transom for some time and the existence or non-existence of ancillary programming with the quarterback at the center of the frame will dictate conversation. Either he'll be creating it for a new hub or he'll presumably get paid out for ceasing operations.
All of these negotiations will have to be shored up by the time Brady picks up a microphone. But they won't end there. When you survey his track record, it's prudent to expect that there will be some wavering and wandering eyes. The big question will be, from Day One to Day Whatever, focused on how long Brady wants to be a broadcaster. Few people have ever had more available options. Who is to say that he won't get an itch to become an owner after a few years of television?
Broadcasting is a funny thing. The best-laid plans on paper don't always work in practice. Brady is quick enough, human enough, and dripping in gravitas. More likely than not, he'll be good at this. And if he's not, there's definitely an element of his personality that suggests he'll stop at nothing to make himself elite. He also could, and Fox execs should shudder at this thought, simply not like it.
Make no mistake. This is monumental for FOX. There should be back-slapping and congratulatory handshakes all around Burbank. We could look back and identify today as one of the most significant announcements of the sports broadcasting century. Football fans and neutral observers should root for that because it would be undoubtably cool for Brady to transition into a second act and continue to be a part of NFL Sundays.
It is not, however, time for Fox to spike the football. In the parlance of the game, this feels more like something that's at midfield than in the red zone. And even when it reaches the red zone, there's legitimate and well-founded belief things could get bogged down. Risk of near- or long-term turnovers still exists. It'd be crazy not to assume this risk, so the network did. It'd also be crazy to pretend it didn't exist.