Chris Berman to take on vastly reduced role at ESPN

We’ve known since May that Chris Berman would be assuming a lesser role at ESPN after his current contract expires, and on Thursday the specifics about his future at the network were revealed by the network: After 31 years, Berman no longer will be hosting ESPN’s main NFL shows: “Sunday NFL Countdown,” “NFL PrimeTime” and “Monday Night Countdown.”

As part of a new multiyear deal, Berman will appear on “Monday Night Countdown” in a new capacity, conducting taped interviews and doing segments on historical subjects, and will host “NFL PrimeTime” only after the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. He also will do postseason baseball play-by-play on ESPN Radio and have a role in the ESPYs.

“The whole experience here has been a dream come true,” Berman, 61, said in a network-issued statement. “When we started in 1979, I was just 24. Nobody knew if ESPN would make it, or, for that matter, if cable TV would make it. I certainly wasn’t sure I would make it, but I really didn’t care. We were too busy having a blast, talking sports with viewers who were just like us, even if it was during the wee hours of the morning. We got to band together here in Bristol, Connecticut, and put out a product of which we were all very proud.

“What I didn’t know I was signing up for was a lifetime of friendships and, I like to think, respect. Respect from those I have worked with and from those in sports I have covered, and respect from those viewers who welcomed us into their homes. That’s what hits me the most as I look back at these past 38 years – knowing that all of this happened while we were just having fun and trying to get it right.”

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According to Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand, who broke the news Thursday about Berman’s reduced role, the deal came after months of negotiations between the network and his agent. In May, numerous outlets reported that his role would be diminished after his current contract was up, with the Big Lead reporting that Berman would be leaving the network after the end of the current NFL season. That proved to be incorrect.

“I like to think of myself as an ESPN lifer,” Berman told Ourand. “There really wasn’t any thought of doing anything else. . . . We’ve had a great working relationship extending 38 years.”

Berman joined the fledgling network one month after its founding in 1979 and, as the years went by, became the face of the network thanks in large part to his hosting duties on “NFL PrimeTime,” an entertaining, fast-paced Sunday evening highlight show that once was a must-watch among pro football fans. But as the NFL’s media presence spread with the rise of the Internet and satellite television – viewers could now watch every game as it happened, if they wanted – such highlight shows became something of a relic. And once NBC acquired the right to broadcast the first-run NFL highlights as part of its “Football Night in America” pregame show, starting with the 2006 season, the writing was on the wall. ESPN moved “PrimeTime” to Monday nights, when everyone already had seen the highlights.

No word on who will replace Berman as host of ESPN’s main NFL programs, though the likes of Trey Wingo and Suzy Kolber have been bandied about.