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ESPN is launching a new “Monday Night Football” anthem that will lead into broadcasts, starting with Week 2’s double bill.
Chris Stapleton, Snoop Dogg and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana will cover the Phil Collins classic “In The Air Tonight” in an abridged version that will take viewers back to the beginning of the game with announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.
Stapleton sings while Snoop inserts football-centric rap verses. Blackman Santana delivers the famous drum solo that fuels anticipation for that evening’s games.
The artists and song were chosen in light of focus group research by ESPN’s creative content team which revealed that the “MNF” branding contained a level of nostalgia dating back to the era when broadcaster Howard Cosell called the games.
Finding a contemporary way to mobilize millions – visually and aurally – from home was the biggest challenge, according to video producer Rico Labbe.
“We just wanted to make sure we heard everyone’s voices — whether it was the fans’ voices, whether it was the artists’ voices, whether it was staying true to the ‘Monday Night Football’ brand over the years,” Labbe told USA TODAY. Sports. “We just wanted to make sure we brought it all together. It can be a challenge. But we think we’ve hit the sweet spot.”
Julie McGlone, ESPN’s vice president of creative content production, said the creative content team debuted a new anthem for “MNF” in 2021. The “MNF” team loved the idea, but asked them to take their time preparing for the release of the song — designed to fill a similar track as Carrie Underwood’s “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night” on NBC — with new broadcast contracts beginning this season, giving ESPN an expanded regular-season and postseason portfolio.
Stapleton first appeared on ESPN’s radar after Super Bowl 57 in February, when he sang the national anthem. The Creative Content Unit attended his concerts and analyzed his musical works. But it was his appeal to multiple demographic groups that made him an ideal leader for the project.
“We really felt like he had this spiritual feeling that included everyone,” Labbe said.
McGlone said Snoop Dogg was an obvious addition because he fits the mold of someone with recent influence and decades on the scene.
Then there was the drum solo. Blackman Santana, one of the most skilled drummers of all time, cemented her place in McGlone’s mind with her performance in Lenny Kravitz’s 1993 music video “Will You Go My Way?” McGlone said the site’s producers wanted a strong female presence, and Blackman Santana represents that for them.
“It was important to see some female representation that wasn’t a dancer or a backup singer,” she told USA TODAY Sports.
And Blackman Santana hits the drop ferociously.
“We needed someone who could hit those notes,” Labbe said.
“She actually changes the drum and you’re like, ‘Fuck,'” McGlone said.
The song “In The Air Tonight” is not scheduled to take place until March 2023. The ESPN team recognized that many NFL players, along with fans, associate the song with preparing for the game. Collins gave his blessing to the project once he got assurances that it would not replace the theme song of “MNF” — “the four notes,” as members of the creative content team call it.
Instead, this new spot will lead to that topic.
“I think everyone who’s a football fan knows the four notes,” McGlone said of the lead single, titled “Heavy Action.” “I hope everyone knows this now too.”
Labbe said Stapleton made clear from the beginning his intention to honor Collins. One shot from the piece zooms in on Stapleton’s face with red lighting, recreating the cover of Collins’ “No Jacket Required” album.
The registration process took approximately five months. Stapleton and Blackman Santana worked together to anchor the drum sections, while Snoop was responsible for seven different rap sections lasting approximately 17 seconds.
“Chris was very inspiring,” Labbe said. “He wanted to do it right and make sure he represented the song the right way.”
Because the song has to be played in a 90-second window before cutting to Buck and Aikman—both of whom are Stapleton fans and were supporters of the project—it’s not strictly a cover. Stapleton music producer Dave Cobb, co-director Mike Sciallis and producer Amanda Paschal helped structure the music in such a way that the package worked with the pre-game intro rather than a slow burn that drags on.
This version has a natural roller change structure, which arrives much faster compared to the original version. The anthem will be played before every game on ESPN except for the Week 4 game in London between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons (on ESPN+) because kickoff will be at 9:30 a.m. ET.
“I think it’s a great moment in music to have different sounds — country western, hip-hop, rock — it’s like a big gumbo,” Labbe said. “I feel like this is the United States.”
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