Tom Brady inside the magic talking picture box

Television lands a legend — whenever his playing career ends, and on that, your guess is as a good as mine, writes JASON GAY.

Tom Brady plans to move to the broadcast booth when his playing career ends. Picture: Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Tom Brady plans to move to the broadcast booth when his playing career ends. Picture: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Tom Brady is going to make something like a gazillion-jillion dollars talking about football on TV, whenever he stops playing football on TV, because of course he is.

What: Did you think Tom Brady was going to go away?

Did you expect him to retreat from public life, to grow a long, flowing beard and become a recluse who writes unpublished books about trains, and is occasionally photographed midday outside a decaying mansion in a silk TB12 bathrobe, eating almonds and talking to squirrels?

No. Over the past 20 years, there have been four consistencies in American life: death, taxes, complaining about cable news shows, and Tom Brady. Love him, loathe him, fear him, or simply admire his skin care routine, he’s one of the most stable relationships all of us have, as reliable as the tides and dogs hating fireworks.

He’s not going anywhere, people. Tom Brady is forever.

His contract is with Fox, an outfit that shares common ownership with The Wall Street Journal, which I guess makes Brady, vaguely, a colleague, and potentially, my new best friend. I’m going to give him the space he needs, but if he has any questions, or just wants to know a nice place in Midtown Manhattan to buy an $18 salad (hold the nightshades!) he knows where to find me.

Got it, Tom? You can’t see this, but I’m making the “call me” symbol with my hand.

(Last summer, I asked Brady in an interview if he’d consider TV when his playing time was over. “I don’t think that appeals to me right now,” he said. “I’ve never had a thought of, like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’” I believe this makes Brady the first high-profile person in sports to ever change his mind.)

He’s a major get, a rebuke to the idea that the biggest sports stars are too big, too rich and too Gulfstreamed for the mortal grind of TV. Superman is coming to the supermarket, as the Mailer-ism goes, and at some point in the future, we will see Brady not in shoulder pads, but in makeup, and perhaps, a branded blazer, trying to convince us, like many before him, that the Lions have a chance on Thanksgiving.

But when? I am concerned that the Fox arrangement claims that Brady will join the booth “immediately following his playing career.” Who knows when that day will come? One presumes Brady gave his new employer a top-secret pinkie sign, and I guess it’s possible that Brady is on TV as soon as the 2023 season — or, if the Bucs drop out of the playoffs, at next February’s Super Bowl, which airs on Fox. However, it’s also possible that a man whose career has already worn out all the actuarial tables keeps playing, playing and playing, to the point he not only outlives Fox, but the medium of television, and there’s no industry left for him to transition to when he finally hangs up his cleats, in 2091.

Who knows if we’ll even care about football then? We’ll probably all be in the metaverse, or on Mars, wrapping space boots for Bezos, or firing off tweets for Musk.

At the moment, though, we still care about football, way too much, which is why this is happening, and how Brady can be enticed to abandon lazy Sundays to a deal that the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported is $375 million over 10 years, more money than Brady’s made playing football. A Fox spokesperson has said “what has been reported isn’t an accurate description of the deal,” but I think it’s safe to presume Brady is going to be paid very well and will probably be able to expense taxi rides. (I’ll also pause right now to remind you that a young Johnny Unitas made $6 a game to start his career with the semipro Bloomfield Rams, and that Roone Arledge lured Dandy Don Meredith to the booth at ABC for $30,000.)

That was then, and then some. Today, the NFL is the final trace of the monoculture, the last thing we watch en masse, and on top of that, it’s live, which gives it enormous value and has triggered an absurd gold rush for talent. Amazon has jumped in, goosing the market even more, and other digital players loom. You’ve seen the spending spree for quarterback mouths like Tony Romo and Troy Aikman; You’ve watched the Manning Brothers turn their self-produced football “Wayne’s World” into a hit. Forget the Newhouse School: today’s most successful broadcasters are groomed under centre.

If you’ve made it this far in the column, you also likely know that announcers don’t really move the ratings needle with football audiences — it’s about match-ups, and if you have the Cowboys playing the Packers in late afternoon, you could put two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in headsets and achieve the highest Nielsen of the week.

No one knows this more than the people who program sports television, but they see value in the halo — a big name lifts colleagues, advertisers, Wall Street, and entrances the media. (This is the 3 millionth piece written about Brady’s hiring since Tuesday.) Most importantly, it pleases the NFL, which holds the golden goose and decides what networks will enjoy the pleasure of paying billions for an egg.

Will Brady be any good at TV? For this kind of reported money, you’d hope so. The fear is always that the recently-retired pro will be reluctant to dump on his brethren, but today’s announcers have already migrated from critical to wonkier approaches. Brady has more edge than he let on in New England, where he personified Belichick’s dull, give ‘em nothing Patriots Way, but on the air, all he has to do is show off his brain. If he speaks clearly and points out football arcana like mesh concepts or two-high shell coverages, the nerds are going to lose it.

It’s a strange era for sports TV. These are not the louche, mustard-jacket days of Monday Night — programming is scattered across a digital universe to a hard-to-locate audience that increasingly watches on devices or follows via clips on social media. Football is not a mere launchpad to promote other programming — it is the most essential product the networks have, critical to their survival. If you think about it, this makes Tom Brady — not a news anchor, a sitcom star, or a late-night talk show host — the most important man on television, before he’s even started working on television.

Of course he’s that. You’ve been watching for years. Tom Brady always wins.

-The Wall Street Journal