Photograph: Michael Ainsworth/AP

It has long been understood that no single viewer tunes in to watch the broadcasters of a game. Viewers tune in for, well, the game. The pieces around that – the announcer, the play-by-play analyst, the sideline reporter – are interchangeable parts.

When Tony Romo was set to hit broadcasting free agency, the reports about his proposed salary became a point of public contention, even among active players. Sure, Romo might be the best in the business right now, but is he really that much more valuable than the average analyst or the second person on CBS’ bench?

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Romo’s deal made some sense. ESPN offered Romo a record-breaking $20m-per-year deal to try to resuscitate the networks flagging Monday Night Football brand. Romo instead re-upped with CBS for a reported $17m annually, a figure that will see him earn more than all but four active quarterbacks this season and would rank tenth among all active NFL players.

Broadcast companies pay top money for the highest-rated announcers through a belief that there is a tangible benefit. And while it’s true that the barrier for entry is low, that no one is tuning in for the broadcasters themselves, it’s also true that bad broadcasters can sour the mood, not so much with the viewing public as with the companies broadcast partner: the NFL.

The viewer might only care who’s calling the game in the mythical They Hate My Team sense. But the league office puts tremendous thought into the visual and audio presentation of its games. The big four want their production to be the slickest, to encourage people to hang around, to flog adverts, and to stay in the good graces of the league’s head offices for the next time rights deals roll around. Think of it as an ever-evolving broadcasting power ranking, if you will.

So, let’s power rank.

A quick caveat: this is about the game broadcasts only, not the entire…



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