Ryan Glasspiegal has an interesting new column up at The Big Lead. While others are spending another Tuesday mocking Jason Witten and his verbal gaffes on Monday Night Football, Glasspiegal argues that Witten may be the key to better matchups and an eventual Super Bowl on ESPN.
He writes that it is no secret that ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro has been working hard to mend a relationship with the league that became strained under John Skipper’s leadership. Glasspiegal points to Sean McDonough’s and Jon Gruden’s harsh criticism of the league and its officiating as further upsetting to NFL brass. He rehashes the old rumor that the NFL retaliated for the negative coverage by relegating a truly awful slate of games to Monday nights. Witten doesn’t present that kind of critical threat in prime time.
Witten is unlikely to portray the league in a light that its stakeholders will be unhappy with. Even the “left wing” comment, which he later said was a “mix up”, is something actually more likely to endear him with traditionalist NFL owners than make them queasy.
Glasspiegal writes that the once-frosty relationship began to ease up the second ESPN hired Witten to be a part of Monday Night Football.
When Jerry Jones announced Witten’s hiring at ESPN’s Upfronts this past May, it was a symbolic moment of bridge-building in ESPN’s relationship with the league.
ESPN would not only like a more appealing slate of games, which it seems to be getting this year with more appearances by high profile teams and marquee players. It would also like to shed the distinction of being the league’s only broadcast partner that isn’t part of the Super Bowl rotation. Glasspiegal writes that a mended relationship will help, but there is another problem standing in ESPN’s way.
In addition to wanting better matchups, ESPN would love to get into the Super Bowl cycle in the next round of league rights. Perhaps the NFL, which loves broadcast television, would not want the game exclusively on cable, but ESPN could easily simulcast the game with ABC.
The network’s coverage of the College Football Playoff could provide an excellent blueprint for how ESPN might package a Super Bowl. The main broadcast could go on ABC with multiple alternate options on the ESPN Networks. Whatever the case, ESPN certainly is the broadcast partner in the best position to work with the NFL to innovate how the biggest event in American sports is presented. If ESPN gets that, and the NFL gets that, and most importantly, if the fans get that, then as Glasspiegal writes about Witten’s frequent verbal gaffes, “are the growing pains not worth it?”