NFL and ESPN’s Manning Cast: A New Way to Watch Football

These are just a few of the viral moments from “Monday Night Football with Peyton & Eli”. Also known as “Manning Cast” – as in Brothers and former NFL quarterbacks – it feels more like a talk show than an NFL show.

And that is exactly the point.

The sensation of variety – which sees Eli shaking his hips like Shakira to break down a room instead of just using X’s and O’s – could change the way fans watch games while also helping to attract new viewers to the NFL. – already the biggest audience engine on TV.

“It’s a way for the league to expand its audience, especially with younger viewers and maybe people who don’t necessarily want to see just three hours of football,” Jay Rosenstein, former vice-president, told CNN Business. -President of Programming at CBS Sports. . “It’s like watching a game with your best friend.”

“Unpredictable, genuine and fun”

Indeed, the Manning Cast is not a play-by-play of the game.

Instead, the famous hosts do exactly what most viewers do at home: watch Monday Night Football. The brothers discuss the game (which is played alongside them onscreen), hold interviews with high-profile guests such as Tom Brady, Charles Barkley and LeBron James, and mercilessly tease each other as siblings often do.

It airs on ESPN 2 at the same time as the main game airs and has been a big hit for the sports network so far. After opening the season with 800,000 viewers, the Manning Cast surged significantly, averaging around 1.9 million viewers in weeks two and three. After a three-week hiatus, it returned to 1.6 million viewers last Monday, according to ESPN.

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Manning Cast’s final three episodes are now leading ESPN’s ratings among alternative TV shows.

ESPN and its parent company Disney (SAY) announced in July a multi-year agreement with Ohama Productions, Peyton’s production company. The deal was the genesis of the Manning Cast, and the brothers are discussing 10 games per season until 2023.

Rosenstein noted that if you get two people as likeable as the Manninges, an alternate show doesn’t “dilute the product.”

This is apparently what is happening. Monday Night Football’s overall ratings this season – which includes Manning Cast – are up 17% from 2020 and 15% from 2019, according to ESPN.

Burke Magnus, president of programming and original content at ESPN, told CNN Business that he believed Manning Cast had “strengthened our already strong bond with the NFL fan” and did so by “showing the people and personalities in a new, unpredictable, authentic and fun environment. “

“These two guys are unique”

Peyton and Eli Manning do more than name the game. They also do interviews with notable names.

The NFL has already experimented with alternative broadcasts.

Most notably, the league produced a children’s television show on Nickelodeon during last season’s playoffs alongside the game featured on CBS. The kids’ cast included kid announcers, a giant SpongeBob SquarePants stacked in the end zone, and virtual cannons that covered the pitch in CGI slime.

The Manning Cast has no slime (…Again), but there are Peyton and Eli. It’s also why the show’s success can be hard to replicate.

“The real strategic question is how sustainable and replicable this is elsewhere,” Patrick Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive turned media consultant, told CNN Business. “I have real doubts that other alternative shows can reach these levels. These two guys are very unique.”

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Crakes added that even viewers who don’t normally interact with NFL games “probably know who Peyton Manning is.” This type of recognition gives the Manning Cast an edge that may be difficult for competitors to match.

But they’ll probably give it a try, given the success of Manning Cast. It could take the NFL broadcast beyond the disembodied voices of analysts and commentators of color chatting in a booth.

“Can other networks find the right talent with the right chemistry to make the broadcast sufficiently promotional and engaging to build on the audience it already has?” Rosenstein said. “This is what the networks are going to have to find out.”

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