Philadelphia is becoming a popular destination for ESPN personalities.
For the first time this season, the network is taking its long-running pregame show Sunday NFL Countdown on the road, trekking down I-95 from its studio in Bristol, Conn., to Philadelphia ahead of the Eagles’ highly anticipated match-up against the Dallas Cowboys.
The show will broadcast from XFINITY Live! beginning at 10 a.m., where host Sam Ponder will be joined by analysts Tedy Bruschi, Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss, Rex Ryan, and Louis Riddick — a Bucks county native and former Eagles scout who has steadily risen through the ranks to become one of ESPN’s most respected voices.
ESPN reporters Sal Paolantonio and Ed Werder (who was recently hired back after he was laid off in 2017) will report live from Lincoln Financial Field, while NFL insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter will join the show remotely from ESPN headquarters in Bristol.
Despite Ponder’s previous experience on College Gameday, which goes on the road every week to broadcast live before rabid college fans, this is just the third time in three years Sunday NFL Countdown has decided to pack up and broadcast remotely.
Coordinating producer Matthew Garrett said the decision to bring the show to Philadelphia was finalized Tuesday morning, after the Eagles’ come-from-behind win against the Redskins meant the game against the Cowboys would likely decide the winner of the NFC East.
“Really what we look for is the right combination of game importance and a city and a fan base that has a passion and a personality that we want to be able to bring to life within the show,” Garrett said. “Philly certainly fits that bill.”
After some initial jitters following the replacement of longtime hosts Chris Berman and Tom Jackson in 2017, Sunday NFL Countdown’s TV ratings are up 9 percent this year compared to last season, averaging more than 1.3 million viewers.
Viewers on Sunday can expect a good amount of interaction between the hosts and Eagles fans, which could certainly make for some interesting TV. Garrett said he’s also working on securing some special guests for the broadcast, but as of Wednesday morning didn’t have any names confirmed.
When he texted the hosts to let them know the show would film in Philly, Ryan — whose fondness for bad food was exploited on HBO’s Hard Knocks — was among the first to respond, Garrett said.
"His response was, ‘All right, I need some cheesesteaks,’ " Garrett said. “So yeah, there will definitely be some cheesesteaks at play for Rex.”
Sunday NFL Countdown isn’t the only ESPN show filming live in Philadelphia this week. First Take, the popular debate show featuring former Inquirer reporter Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman, will broadcast live from the Chickie’s and Pete’s on Packer Avenue on Friday starting at 10 a.m.