Monday Night Football returned on ESPN for the first week of the NFL regular season on Monday September 13th when the Las Vegas Raiders hosted the Baltimore Ravens for their season opener. ESPN brought back its primary broadcast team from the previous season with Steve Levy, Louis Riddick, Brian Griese, and Lisa Salters calling the game. It was a great game with the Raiders defeating the Ravens 33-27 in overtime, and it was the Raiders first home game in Las Vegas with the stadium in full capacity due to the COVID pandemic. However, one of the main headlines following the game was not just the game itself, but also about a new broadcast that ESPN debuted.
On ESPN2 (ESPN’s sister channel), ESPN debuted a new broadcast featuring former NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. The Mannings spend the broadcast not calling the game in a traditional sense like what was being aired on main stream ESPN. They spent the time talking football in a conversational tone with Peyton and Eli talking about certain play calls and types with Peyton drawing up plays on a blackboard he keeps in his basement. The Mannings take every opportunity to make fun of each other and different moments in their playing career. The Manning brothers brought out a solid lineup of guests to join them throughout their Week 1 broadcast of Ravens-Raiders with NBA legend Charles Barkley, former NFL player Ray Lewis, and active NFL players Russell Wilson and Travis Kelce. The opening broadcast brought in a solid 800,000 viewers but good publicity and reviews of the Mannings’ first broadcast led to the new broadcast gaining popularity.
When the Mannings returned for the Week 2 Monday night game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, their ratings skyrocketed with 1.9 million viewers tuning in, a 138% increase from Week 1. They brought in a different quartet for their Week 2 broadcast with former NFL players Brett Favre, Patrick Willis, and Pat McAfee along with active NFL player Rob Gronkowski joining the show. The show put up similar ratings numbers in Week 3 with current NBA All Star LeBron James, active NFL player Matthew Stafford, Alabama football head coach Nick Saban, and former NFL player Chris Long joining the show.
The broadcast has gotten great reviews during the first three weeks of the season with fans enjoying the conversational and informal tone that Peyton and Eli have with each other and their guests during the game. Peyton’s play analysis is simple for NFL fans to understand, and the brothers are always having fun with Eli sometimes making fun of Peyton for his trademark large forehead. The move towards untraditional sports coverage is something ESPN has been grappling with for years. With pressures from innovative network alternatives like Barstool Sports, ESPN has struggled to stay relevant with young people. It will be interesting to see if this fun new broadcast can draw younger eyes back to the network.
Due to the contract between ESPN and Peyton’s production company Omaha Productions, Eli and Peyton are only contracted to call 10 of the 16 Monday Night Football games this season on ESPN2. After calling Weeks 1-3, the Mannings took a few weeks off and will return for Week 7. They will broadcast Saints-Seahawks on ESPN2 on Monday October 25th and will return for 6 more of the remaining Monday Night Football games through the rest of the season. Based off the reception over the past 3 weeks, the Mannings are basically guaranteed to return past this season with ESPN’s contract with Omaha Productions being a 3-year contract. They will return for the next two seasons for 10 more games each, similar to their contract this season.
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