As the network hemorrhages talent and battles rivals, ESPN has seemingly made a wise choice in tabbing Sean McDonough as the newest voice of NFL flagship program “Monday Night Football.”
ESPN officially announced McDonough’s promotion on Monday to fill the void left by now former play-by-play man Mike Tirico after his departure to NBC.
McDonough, perhaps best known as the former voice of the Boston Red Sox and as the lead baseball announcer for CBS, will share the booth with color commentator Jon Gruden. As is always the case, his employer was quick to publicly lauded all of McDonough’s accomplishments.
“Sean is a premier play-by-play commentator who combines a signature voice with intelligence, passion and humor, and he always brings out the best in his partners,” John Wildhack, ESPN Executive Vice President, Programming and Production said in a statement. “Monday Night Football has a rich history and a bright future ahead with our new booth team of Sean and Jon.”
Off the bat, McDonough, 53, certainly has the resume and chops to call primetime NFL games. The Boston native worked the Olympics, Major League Baseball’s World Series, and college basketball’s Final Four, to say nothing of his nearly two decades with the Red Sox and years working as a NFL play-by-play broadcaster on ESPN Radio.
The relationship with the Red Sox, McDonough told the Boston Herald, ended back in 2004 after the team decided not to renew his contract. He’s since learned from the divorce and while working for ESPN Radio McDonough’s gained a stronger appreciation for his job.
“I think what I’ve learned through the years is to never take anything for granted,” said McDonough, who is the son of famed Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough. “Even though I had an opportunity at a young age, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to keep coming your way, and I’m living proof of that. For a long time, I had some really good opportunities, but it wasn’t the World Series and it wasn’t 'Monday Night Football.' There’s very few of these kinds of jobs, and when you have them you’re very fortunate to have them. As much as I didn’t want to leave the Red Sox, I think that was mostly a financial issue, to be totally honest about it.”
But he does have some rather large shoes to fill. Tirico held the job for a decade, and the booth previously had far bigger names calling the action. Broadcast legends Howard Cosell and Al Michaels helped define the brand of one of television's highest-rated programs.
McDonough has the pedigree for the position, having began his career in 1982 and after some notable games. He called UConn and Syracuse’s classic six-overtime basketball game in the 2009 Big East tournament, and most recently McDonough was pitch perfect in football when calling Michigan State’s victory over Michigan by a muffed punt.
For ESPN the move is likely both fiscally shrewd with very little risk, despite McDonough's lack of major name recognition. The network has seen top talent like Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, and most recently Skip Bayless exit either over monetary or creative differences, while a decline in ratings has been a problem for some time.
Promoting from within, especially someone like a McDonough who seems intent on keeping hold of the premier job, likely helps the network avoid questionable personalities and keep budgets down.