Are You Ready for Some Half-Time?
By Richard Sandomir
“Monday Night Football” on Election Day eve will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers playing the Washington Redskins — and Senators John McCain against Barack Obama as the half-time entertainment.
The presidential candidates will tape their interviews earlier in the day, at still-to-be-determined locations, with Chris Berman questioning them from an ESPN studio in Bristol, Conn.
Which interview will be seen first, at approximately 10:15 p.m. Eastern time?
“We’ll flip a coin,” said Norby Williamson, an ESPN executive vice president. He said he will not ask campaign officials to call heads or tails. “We’ll do it amongst ourselves,” he said.
Mr. Williamson said that ESPN started planning months ago for the half-time interviews, whoever the candidates turned out to be, and wanted the Washington backdrop. (The game is actually being played in nearby Landover, Md., at FedEx Field.) The network successfully lobbied the National Football League for the Redskins game.
Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain won’t get much air-time on “Monday Night” — they will split about 6 1/2 minutes — but should consider their ESPN detour worthwhile if they reach the 12.2 million viewers the series has been averaging this season. “I’d think given our promotion of this, we’d get a spike at halftime,” Mr. Williamson said.
The questions are expected to touch on football and the candidates’ feelings as they wind down the end of an arduous campaign. “We don’t want to get into a public policy discussions,” Mr. Williamson said. “We’ll keep it light, have some fun. We know Obama is a Chicago Bears fan and McCain is an Arizona Cardinals fan.”
Mr. Berman, who has interviewed one sitting president, Bill Clinton, said, “I don’t think we’ll get into Darfur, although I’d be interested in their responses. I don’t know what I’ll ask. Something might happen over the weekend to change things. But I’m not going to sit and ask McCain about the Arizona Cardinals linebackers, although he might know the answers. And Obama might tell you about Devin Hester” — a Bears receiver.
Known for the nicknames he gives athletes, Mr. Berman said he would only bestow one on Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama if they ask in advance.
“This isn’t going to be a mind-changer,” he said, “but it might give people one or two things to think about before they go into the voting booth.”