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Greg Gumbel: Announcers don’t get people to watch NFL games

Amid reports that ESPN has landed Joe Buck to call Monday Night Football alongside former partner Troy Aikman, Mike Florio and Myles Simmons agree that the move is huge for ESPN.

As sports broadcasters go, few have been around as long as Greg Gumbel. He started in 1973. He’s 75 years old. (I couldn’t believe that.)

And so Greg Gumbel knows a thing or two about broadcasting. He knows a thing or two about NFL broadcasting. Recently appearing on the SI Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina, Gumbel chimed in on the gigantic contracts recently given to individuals who will be working NFL games.

“I will tell you, it has gotten crazy,” Gumbel told Traina. “I don’t have any need to be jealous of it. I’ve been treated really nicely and have always been appreciative of what I’ve been able to do for a long, long time. So I think that doesn’t apply to me. What does tickle my thought process is, I’ve never felt in my entire life there is an announcer who can bring someone to the TV set to watch a game that that viewer wasn’t already going to watch. And I believe the only thing a broadcaster can do is chase people away.”

So who chases people away?

“I won’t name them -- but there are three or four announcers, ‘Oh, I’m really interested in watching, oops, nope, click, gone,’” Gumbel said. “I truly believe that. I don’t think that someone is tuning in just to hear a particular person call a football game.”

Gumbel made another important point. The best broadcasting teams benefit from getting the best games to broadcast.

“All the way back to the days of Pat Summerall and John Madden,” Gumbel said. “Pat and John were terrific. I wanted to pattern myself after Pat Summerall. He didn’t overtalk. He was understated. He was specific about the things that he said. And they were terrific. But how can you not be terrific when you’re doing Giants-Cowboys, Bears-Packers, Rams-49ers, Eagles-Giants? . . . Moe, Larry, and Curly -- no offense to anyone calling games -- Moe, Larry, and Curly can do a good football game.”

That’s a point we made as the money recently was flowing from the likes of ESPN and Amazon. If you put the worst announcing team on a great game and the best announcing team on a dog crap game, would anyone tune in for the canine excrement contest featuring the industry’s best announcers? Hell no.

Still, the networks apparently think that part of the effort to appease the NFL includes overpaying for the supposedly “best” talent to call the supposedly “best” games. It’ll be interesting to see if the league continues to endorse that approach, given that Amazon’s interest in Rams coach Sean McVay undoubtedly forced Rams owner Stan Kroenke to dig deep in the couch cushions of his superyacht to keep McVay around.

That said, it won’t happen very often. Once the best seats are filled, the people filling them surely won’t be looking to leave. Thus, the leverage that landed in McVay’s lap may not happen again any time soon.