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Amazon pursuing Kirk Herbstreit for Thursday night NFL package

The $1.5 trillion company, having missed on its top three targets, reportedly now has its eyes on the voice of college football.

What happens when a $1.5 trillion company gets backed into a corner? It looks like we're about to find out.

After losing Troy Aikman to Fox and getting a "Thanks, but no thanks" from John Lynch and Sean McVay, Amazon is set to pursue Kirk Herbstreit to analyze its Thursday Night Football package, according to the New York Post.

This move is fascinating from multiple angles. Let's break them all down here.

For Amazon: Amazon is one of the most valuable companies in the world -- the company made $1.28 billion a day in 2021 -- so it's not accurate to say it can't afford to fail here. Amazon can afford anything. But it's brand-spanking-new, live-streaming sports-people-actually-care-about can't afford to fail here, from a credibility perspective. Al Michaels, the most successfully, most widely respected play-by-play announcer in the history of sports television, is reportedly set to become Amazon's Neil Armstrong, so long the company finds him a suitable Buzz Aldrin.

Amazon's actions tell us they believe there are more No. 1 analyst jobs than there are No. 1 analysts, evidenced by their pursuit of Fox and ESPN's top analysts, in addition to courting active NFL figures in Lynch and McVay. 

Amazon was reportedly prepared to offer McVay $100 million to leave the Rams. How much would the streaming giant offer if down to its final choice? How high is the $1.5 trillion company's salary cap for football announcers?

For Herbstreit: For starters, we know he'd like to call more NFL games.

“I had an absolute ball calling that game,” Herbstreit said after calling Steelers-Giants to open the 2020 season. “And it made me reflect a little bit differently toward my future and what I might want to do down the road.

“Like I said, I hope to always do college football. But if NFL would be in my future, I’m a lot more open to that thought than I was maybe prior to that experience.”

There's a possibility Herbstreit could work for Amazon and ESPN at the same time (more on this below), and in that case one could see why Herbstreit would be interested.

This could be a Bucket List play for Herbstreit.... or it could be a leverage play.

The only reason you're even reading this article right now is because ESPN ponied up $90 million over five years to pry Aikman away from Fox and Amazon. 

While the Monday Night package is Boardwalk on ESPN's Monopoly board, college football isn't far behind. ESPN owns college football, for all intents and purposes (especially once the SEC's top game comes aboard in 2024), and Kirk Herbstreit is ESPN college football. He's on the air seven hours each Saturday. Viewers begin the day watching him at 9 a.m. ET on GameDay and end their day listening him analyze the Saturday Night Football game. Herbie has been on GameDay since 1996 and on SNF since 2006; he's called each national championship game since the 2009 season and 14 Rose Bowls.

If Aikman is worth $19 million a year to ESPN, how much is Herbstreit worth? Surely more than the $6 million the Worldwide Leader currently pays him.

Maybe this news leads ESPN to open up Herbstreit's deal to put him more in line with the new market reality for A-list TV talent in big-time football... or maybe he piles ESPN's $6 million a year with another $15 a year from Amazon.

For ESPN: Let's go back to Marchand's report:

While Herbstreit is under contract with ESPN for around $6-plus million per year, sources have told The Post that the way his deal is written he would be allowed to do the NFL with another entity, while continuing on college for ESPN.

When dealing with someone of Herbstreit’s stature and with the budding rivalry between ESPN and Amazon, the language of the contract could potentially be looked at differently by lawyers. It could be disputed if ESPN has to allow Herbstreit to work for Amazon.

If I'm ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro, the only way I'm allowing Herbstreit to do triple duty is with a contractual gun to my head.

To do the Amazon games, Herbstreit would have to be up-to-date on all 53 players for both teams, 17 times a year.

To do the Saturday night games, Herbstreit has to be up-to-date on all 85 players for both times, 17-18 times a year.

To do GameDay, Herbstreit has to be up-to-date on every college football player, coach and storyline, 17-18 times a year.

On top of balancing that mental weight each week from September through early January, there's also the logistical reality of calling a game Thursday night, flying to the GameDay location Thursday night/Friday morning, doing GameDay for three hours Saturday morning, doing the Saturday Night game for four hours each night (remember, they're not always in the same location), flying home Sunday morning, and then repeating that cycle each Tuesday when it's time to fly to the following NFL game.

Obviously, that's a dream schedule (and salary) for each of us. But in reality, it's simply not possible for anyone -- even Kirk Herbstreit -- to handle that schedule while still producing No. 1-level work.

For proof, let's look back a month. 

Herbstreit spent his New Year's Eve in Miami, calling Georgia's Orange Bowl win over Michigan. He then flew cross-country overnight and was on the air approximately nine hours later for GameDay, live from the Rose Bowl floor. You likely remember that because Herbstreit stepped in it by accusing this generation's player of not loving football enough

He later walked back those comments, but it's impossible not to think Herbstreit's insane schedule short-circuited his brain's internal governor.

Obviously, that's an extreme schedule, but how could anyone expect to do an NFL game, a college football game, and a 3-hour college football studio show each week for four straight months without their work suffering?

Again, if I'm running ESPN, the only way I allow my top college football talent to take on such a demanding side gig is if I have no other choice.

Tony Romo's 10-year, $180 million contract from CBS completely reset the market in sports television, and the ripples of that enormous splash could create its own wave in college football.