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Volume 21 No. 47
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Candidates interested in Nov. 5 'MNF' slot

Both presidential campaigns have approached ESPN about appearing on “Monday Night Football” the night before the election.

ESPN has not made a final decision yet, but appears likely to have its longtime NFL studio host Chris Berman interview President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney during halftime of the Eagles-Saints game Nov. 5, according to Vince Doria, ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news. The campaigns also have expressed an interest in appearing on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” morning radio show.

“We’ve been approached and are strongly considering doing it again,” Doria said. “If we do those, we will try to treat the candidates in a fair manner and try to find some questions that have a sports connection but have a substance to them.”

The Obama and Romney camps’ interest in appearing on ESPN is not new.

“Monday Night Football” halftime host Chris Berman talked to Barack Obama and John McCain in separate interviews in 2008.
Photos: ESPN
Four years ago, Obama and Sen. John McCain sat for separate three-minute interviews that ran during halftime of the Steelers-Redskins “Monday Night Football” game that took place the day before the election. The interviews were taped well before opening kickoff.

In 2008, both candidates also separately called into the “Mike and Mike” radio show a few weeks before the election for roughly 10-minute segments that were filled with light banter about sports.

The “Monday Night Football” interviews were kept light, too, with McCain, at one point, parroting two of Berman’s catchphrases. When asked what personal qualities he wanted viewers to remember as they went to the polls, McCain said, “I want them to think: He. Could. Go. All. The. Way. To the White House.” He followed that by saying, “Even though some pundits have written me off, that’s why they play the game.”

Berman conducted the “Monday Night Football” interviews and almost certainly would conduct ones this year, too.

“Chris Berman does halftimes on ‘Monday Night Football.’ Given that’s going to be the vehicle, we’re going to use Chris there,” Doria said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t necessarily knock our batting order out of place here to accommodate. We believe Chris handled it very well.”

In 2008, Berman asked each candidate three questions. He asked them what they would change in sports. (Obama called for a college football playoff, and McCain said he wanted to do away with performance-enhancing drugs.)

Both candidates referenced high school coaches when Berman asked them for the best piece of advice they received from the sports world.

Doria said questions this year will be similar, meaning they would remain lighter and focused on sports.

“Maybe there are some questions about the safety issue in football, which might be appropriate to that platform,” Doria said. “I want to get stuff that tries to spin forward a little bit and tries to look at things that our viewers are most interested in.”

In fact, ESPN has made a concerted effort to stay out of the political scene this year, a contrast to four years ago when ESPN did pieces on Obama as a sports fan, McCain’s role in trying to clean up boxing and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s basketball and sportscasting background.

“There seemed like a lot of connections with sports back in 2008,” Doria said. “We’ve done a lot of the Obama angles in the past. And Romney, at least on the face of it, is not a guy that has overly emphasized his sports connections or his fandom.”

Romney was the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. But Doria said ESPN is not likely to spend a lot of time dissecting his time with the Games.

“The story there was an issue of organization and financial issues,” Doria said. “Given the length of time between that aspect of it and the issues themselves, it’s not particularly interesting for our viewers at this stage of the game.”

Doria is not surprised that the candidates are interested in appearing on “Monday Night Football” again. Through the first seven games, “Monday Night Football” has averaged 13.8 million viewers, and has been the most-watched show on cable television. Coming the night before the election, the game is a way for the candidates to get a final message out to voters in a relaxed apolitical atmosphere.

“People come to our network, to some degree, looking to escape political coverage,” Doria said. “It’s a constant balance of trying to be responsible on one hand and, on the other hand, understanding what you are and what your viewers are looking for and factor that into it.”