On the field, players will adjust to playing in front of sparse, if not empty, stands. Fans at home, meanwhile, will grow comfortable with an NFL Films-produced audio mix to partially replace the missing cheers. The broadcasters calling the games will be altering their rituals too, even as they continue to travel to game sites.
In his 15th year calling Sunday Night Football, Michaels will have to come up with new ways to get information now that he won’t be spending time at team facilities and on the field before games. “Some of the best stories we’ve been able to tell on the air have come from those meetings,” Michaels said.
For CBS’s Jim Nantz, the biggest change might be the new addition between he and boothmate Tony Romo: a sheet of plexiglass. “When Tony and I call games,” Nantz said during a virtual press event earlier this week, “we’re pretty touchy-feely people. There’s a lot of contact going on during the game … but we’ll get used to it.”
Life will only be more complicated for the numerous broadcasters filling new roles this season.
In a more normal year, play-by-play announcer Adam Amin might be more nervous about his debut Sunday as an NFL broadcaster for FOX. Instead, he gets to worry about getting on a plane for the first time in six months, how he is supposed to operate in a hotel and how he’ll be getting to the stadium on gameday. “Maybe all of that is a positive distraction from overthinking, ‘Oh man, here we go, doing an NFL game on national TV for FOX, finally,” Amin said. He’ll have some comfort once the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons kick off, working with fellow former-ESPNers Mike Schlereth and Lindsay Czarniak.
At CBS, having a new partner is nothing new for Ian Eagle. According to the Excel spreadsheet he keeps, Charles Davis—who comes from FOX—will be No. 138. But Eagle couldn’t start to build chemistry with Davis the way he had with any of the previous 137.
Instead, the two—along with sideline reporter Evan Washburn—chatted weekly over Zoom for four months. Eagle learned about Davis’s family and his early career stops before getting into broadcasting; Davis is still flummoxed that Eagle has never had a sip of coffee in his life. “It was basically accelerated speed dating,” Eagle says of the regular season’s worth of calls to prepare for Week 1. “I think in a bizarre way, we are actually closer than we would’ve gotten in another year.”
When it comes to game time, Eagle can lean on his recent experience calling games from inside the NBA’s bubble; Davis, meanwhile, has some extra pressure courtesy of his father.
“He said to me… ‘Aren’t you joining Ian Eagle’s team? Boy, they are really good. You’re the only different piece, so I guess if anything goes wrong, we’ll know where that came from,’” Davis said.
ESPN’s Monday Night Football also has a trio of new voices this year in Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick. That makes sideline reporter Lisa Salters—who in Year 9 is now the longest-tenured person in that role in MNF history—the veteran of the group, but even she finds herself answering a tough question this year: What does it mean to be a sideline reporter when you aren’t allowed on the sideline?
“I’m disappointed that I’m not going to be on the sidelines to do the job the best way I think that I can do it,” she said this week. “It’s going to challenge me to think outside the box, and there’s nothing wrong with that…. I have to find a way to do my job as well, if not better, under new constraints. I’m looking forward to stepping up to the challenge.”