Changes coming to Monday Night Football and the World Series

May 18, 2009 | Luke Jones

A new addition to Monday Night Football and an overdue change to the Fall Classic should make many fans happy this fall.

ESPN has announced former NFL coach Jon Gruden will replace Tony Kornheiser in the Monday Night Football booth this fall, joining play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and analyst Ron Jaworski.

Kornheiser, a longtime sportswriter, was maligned for not having a background as a player or coach, instead choosing to focus on the lighter side of the game.  It reminded too many fans of the failed Dennis Miller experiment that ABC tried at the beginning of the decade.

While I enjoy Kornheiser with Michael Wilbon on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, he never found his place in the MNF broadcast booth.  He often seemed disinterested—if not in over his head—compared to the insightful analysis provided by Jaworski.

Listening to Kornheiser provide color commentary reminded me of someone that tries to engage you in football discussion, but after a few minutes, you realize he just doesn’t know that much about the game.  While he is certainly an accomplished writer, his football insight left much to be desired.

Kornheiser’s excessive discussion over Chad Johnson’s Hall of Fame jacket charade ruined the Ravens-Bengals telecast for me on Opening Night 2007.  He just didn’t bring anything to the broadcast that made you want to listen to him every week.  He was an unwelcome distraction from the football game—not an enriching supplement like a commentator should be.

With Gruden’s hiring, ESPN continues a commitment to appeal to football fans on Monday nights—a welcome change from the celebrity hording that plagued the broadcast a couple seasons ago.  If ESPN wants to boost ratings, they shouldn’t hire a funny guy to provide color commentary; they should hire someone that knows the ins and outs of the NFL and will give viewers a deeper look into the game they love.  Jaworski does this already, and the coaching experience and insights from Gruden will be a welcome change from the superficial Kornheiser.

Ultimately, viewers tuning into Monday Night Football are watching it for, get this, the football!  What a novel idea.  It’s fine trying to reach other demographics, but alienating your core audience in the process is not the way to do it.

A second announcement coming from Major League Baseball and Fox is a move that’s far overdue.

After record-low ratings in last year’s World Series, they are moving up the start time of games this year.  Weeknight games will begin at 7:57 p.m., more than 30 minutes earlier than last year’s starts.  This will mark the first time weeknight Fall Classic games have started before 8:00 since the 1971 World Series between the Pirates and Orioles.

Fans have screamed for earlier start times for years, both for those getting up early the next morning for work and for children rarely getting to watch more than an inning or two on a school night.

Kids are simply not watching baseball, and the sport does an embarrassing job marketing itself to youth.  How can you expect kids to grow up to become baseball fans—and paying customers—when they’ve never even seen a World Series game on television?

Hopefully, Monday’s announcement is a small step toward more change.  No one realistically expects—or even wants—games to return to afternoon starts during the week, but it’s perfectly logical to start weeknight World Series games at 7:00 or 7:30 p.m.  My apologies to the West Coast, but it makes more sense for those fans to miss the first inning or two getting home from work than it does for East Coast fans to stay up past midnight to watch the end of a game.

Commissioner Bud Selig also approached Fox about the possibility of a weekend afternoon World Series game, but the network shot it down, believing the ratings would be too low.

How is it even possible to project ratings when there hasn’t been an afternoon Fall Classic game since 1987?  Just try it out on a Saturday afternoon.  If the ratings flop worse than last year’s World Series, dump the idea.  Marketing it as the first afternoon World Series game in over 20 years would create some buzz, not to mention give kids an opportunity to watch an entire World Series game.

Regardless of where this year’s changes lead in the future for the World Series, baseball gets the nod for finally getting something right—even if it’s more than 20 years late.