By: Nick DiMeglio
Many are aware of the efforts ESPN has put towards its Monday Night Football broadcasts in recent months. Last season ESPN signed Peyton and Eli Manning to agreements that will run the network nearly $30 million a year to keep the talent of their “Manningcast” on air for Monday Night Football’s “alternative” broadcast. Earlier this year it was announced that Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were leaving their post as FOX broadcasters, both known for their work together on “America’s Game of the Week” to fulfill the standard ESPN coverage for Monday Night Football. Getting Buck and Aikman to sway away from FOX came at a hefty price, about $165 million over 5 years. Aikman in the area of five years $90 million, tying what has been the largest yearly NFL TV salary of Tony Romo with CBS and Buck at $75 million for the same term.
Some ask why ESPN would dish out such funds for on-air talent for their NFL broadcasts. Observers state ESPN internally believes that these “all in” efforts could lead to selling more advertising at even greater prices. On the other hand, this may be its way of finally giving the NFL what it is looking for after disappointing over the last few seasons in regard to ratings and viewership, and the likes of the Manning’s, Troy Aikman, and Joe Buck may win them a more favorable game schedule going forward. For years, ESPN has seen itself being granted less priority when selecting primetime games, far from the glory days of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Frank Gifford, Al Michaels, and of course the late great John Madden. ESPN recently signed an 11-year deal with the NFL including broadcast rights for the Wild Card playoff rounds. Some also say that this spending may also be ESPN’s attempt to create a more star-studded broadcast team in preparation for such games and its Super Bowl broadcast in 2027.
With the likes of Amazon trying to become one of the NFL’s premier media partners, this may have been ESPN’s attempt to stay competitive for future deals and viewership after Amazon recently landed Kirk Herbstreit and lured in Al Michaels. Since Jon Gruden’s exit from ESPN’s Monday Night Football when he went to Las Vegas, ESPN never obtained a sense of stability with their broadcast crew, attempting to utilize multiple broadcasters over the last few years in a mere exhibition of musical chairs.
Early signs are promising, ESPN announced that the first Monday night game of the season, the Denver Broncos, and Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle to play the Seahawks was its most-watched Monday Night Football broadcast since 2009. As well as its third best overall since 2006 with a grand total of 19,845,000 viewers between ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes which 1,502,000 was attributed to Manningcast (86% increase from 2021 week one broadcast).
Early data shows that Monday Night Football’s week two cast may have just done the unthinkable. In back-to-back weeks, ESPN networks have obtained record-setting viewership, besting last week's 19,845,000 viewers with a mark of 20,600,000 on average and a peak of 22,200,200 during an overlap of the Tennessee-Buffalo and Minnesota-Philadelphia games. In total, nearly four billion minutes were consumed by fans Monday night, making ESPN and ABC the most watched networks of the evening.
Time will only tell if these record-breaking Monday viewership and ratings continue, but it sure is an intriguing sample of what may be to come. If things continue in this way, more marketing dollars are sure to be diverted to Monday Night Football commercial slots meaning the pot of money ESPN spent for the Manning’s, Troy Aikman and Joe Buck may have all been worthwhile in the end.