NBC Universal Sports & Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol Thursday officially announced what everybody already knew. Thirty-year ABC veteran Al Michaels will join John Madden in the NBC broadcast booth for the network's new package of Sunday night NFL games.
For ESPN's Chief George Bodenheimer to let Michaels out of his contract, said Ebersol, NBC had to sell the Disney-owned net the cable rights to Friday coverage of the next four Ryder Cup golf championships, provide it more Olympic highlights after NBC's final prime time broadcast each night, air a promo for MNF during its Sunday telecast (through 2011), give ESPN expanded highlights to Notre Dame football, The Kentucky Derby, and Preakness (also through 2011), and give up Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Yes, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Ebersol said that NBC had agreed to provide some compensation for Michaels, but not cash. On the list, said Ebersol, was the name Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit. Who?, said Ebersol.
Turns out that Walt Disney's first cartoon character was Oswald, not Mickey, and that Disney had lost those rights before hitting it big with the Mouse. Those rights had eventually come into the possession of Universal, now co-owned with NBC, and were making no money for his company, said Ebersol.
Ebersol said he got a good price for Ryder Cup, was happy to give ABC more Olympic highlights, and, after a call with top Universal executive Ron Meyer, the final piece of the deal, Oswald, was done.
Both Michaels and Madden had helmed ABC's Monday Night Football, which is moving to co-owned ESPN starting in the fall. Bob Costas and Chris Collinsworth will front the Football Night in America studio show.
"When we made the deal with the NFL this spring, there were four key stars I knew I wanted to build our football team around, but I wondered from the beginning, if I would be lucky enough to get them all," said Ebersol in a statement from Torino, Italy, where NBC is preparing for Friday's Olympic opening ceremonies and the games to follow. "If you had asked me in mid-summer if I was really going to be able to pull this off, I would have said there's no way in hell, but that didn't stop me from trying."
The Michaels move became clear Wednesday when ABC announced that he was exiting the network and his planned post in the Monday Night Football booth alongside Joe Theismann, formerly with ESPN's Sunday night game (Washington Post sports writer Tony Kornheiser and ESPN vet Mike Tirico will now round out that MNF team).
Michaels said that he made the move to reunite with Madden and some of the MNF family who have also joined NBC. He also said that he had told ABC that if they did not let him out of his contract to make the move, he would have given the show "100%."
Michaels said that, ultimately, at this stage in his career, it was about preserving those MNF relationships. Michaels had committed to ESPN's Monday game back in July, when he was under a deadline from Ebersol to make a decision, but came to realize he wanted to join his MNF family, particularly when NBC hired two key MNF staffers in the fall.
Madden and Michaels will be reunited at the Hall of Fame game Aug. 6, when Madden, former super Bowl-winning coach and much-honored sports broadcaster, will also be inducted into the Hall.
The NFL has become as much a game of musical chairs as it is football, with announcers and TV rights jumping nets with abandon, including NBC getting NFL after a lengthy hiatus, taking ESPN's Sunday night game now that it has ABC's Monday night slot.
The NFL Network, which up until now has had everything but NFL football, at least regular season, live games, now has a package of games as well when the league decided to keep some games in-house after shopping them to interested parties.