ESPN’s ‘Manning Cast’ is a hit. It may also change how we view the NFL

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

And that’s exactly the point.

The variety-show-like feel – which sees Eli shake his hips like Shakira to break down a play instead of just using X’s and O’s – could change how fans see games, while also helping to pull new viewers to the NFL – which is already the biggest rating driver on TV.

“This is a way for the league to expand its audience, especially with younger viewers and maybe people who do not necessarily want to watch just three hours of football,” Jay Rosenstein, a former VP of programming at CBS Sports, told CNN Business. “It’s like watching a fight with your best friend.”

“Unpredictable, authentic and fun”

The Manning Cast has so far been a hit for ESPN this season.

In fact, 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 chat about the game (which plays with them on screen), hold interviews with notable guests like Tom Brady, Charles Barkley and LeBron James, and tease each other mercilessly, as siblings often do.

It airs on ESPN 2 at the same time as the main game, and so far it has been a big hit for the sports network. After opening the season with 800,000 viewers, Manning Cast made a significant leap with an average of about 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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The last three episodes of Manning Cast now top ESPN’s ratings among alternative broadcasts.

ESPN and its parent company Disney (HAZE) announced in July a multi-year deal with Ohama Productions, Peyton’s production company. That deal was the creation of Manning Cast, and it gets the brothers chatting 10 games a season until 2023.

Rosenstein noted that if you get two people as likeable as Mannings, “an alternative broadcast does not dilute the product.”

That is apparently what is happening. The total viewership figures for Monday Night Football this season – which includes Manning Cast – have risen by 17% from 2020 and 15% from 2019, according to ESPN.

Burke Magnus, ESPN’s president of programming and original content, told CNN Business that he believes Manning Cast has “deepened our already strong connection with the NFL banner” and has done so by “showing people and personalities in a new, unpredictable way. , authentic and fun way environment. “

“These two guys are unique”

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

The NFL has experimented with alternative broadcasts before.

Most notably, the league produced a children’s show on Nickelodeon during last season’s playoffs along with the featured game on CBS. The children’s cast included child announcers, a giant, superimposed SpongeBob SquarePants in the end zone and virtual cannons that covered the field in CGI slime.

The Manning Cast has no mucus (…yet), but it has Peyton and Eli. This is also why the success of the show can be difficult to repeat.

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

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Crakes added that even viewers who do not normally interact with NFL games “probably know who Peyton Manning is.” That type of recognition gives Manning Cast an edge that can be difficult for competitors to match.

But they will probably try, given the success of Manning Cast. It could develop NFL broadcasts in addition to the disembodied voices of analysts and color commentators chatting in a booth.

“Can other networks find the right talent with the right chemistry to make the broadcast promotional and attractive enough to build on the audience it already has?” said Rosenstein. “That’s what networks need to find out.”

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