ESPN has made a series of horrible decisions since 2015. The network’s daily TV lineup lost its connection to sports fans, politics took over behind the scenes, and the radio network collapsed. However, ESPN continues to bolster its live rights division.
This year, ESPN teamed up with Peyton Manning and his Omaha Productions to air an alternative Monday Night Football broadcast hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning on ESPN2.
It’s rare to see viewers agree with critics, yet here we are with the Manning-cast. I expected Week 2’s show to drop its viewership from its Week 1 average of 800,000. Weekly broadcasts typically dip the second week after the pent-up demand wanes. I was wrong. Monday night, Peyton and Eli’s broadcast of the Packers-Lions game on ESPN2 averaged 1.86 million viewers, a +132% increase from its debut episode.
Football fans watched the Mannings Week 1, spread the word, and more viewers tuned in for Week 2.
While it’s not a comparison to the Manning-cast, because that airs on ESPN2, ESPN’s lead broadcast drew 11.9 million viewers last night. Still, clawing two million viewers from ESPN to ESPN2 is impressive and exceeds any reasonable expectations.
The Mannings’ deal with ESPN runs through the 2023 season, with a total of 30 games over three seasons. That works in ESPN’s favor, as well. ESPN’s new rights deal with the NFL put ABC back into the Super Bowl rotation, starting in 2026. Meaning, ESPN doesn’t have to convince Peyton, with or without Eli, to move to the booth until after the end of their current deal. Brian Griese and Louis Riddick are fine, but ESPN wants Peyton Manning in the booth calling the Super Bowl. That’s obvious.
ESPN has wanted Peyton in its lead analyst role for years — so have other networks. So far, though, Peyton has declined all offers, making his deal with ESPN newsworthy. If nothing else, ESPN has the inside track to build a relationship with Peyton and convince him to take a job in the booth at some point. I assume that if Peyton ends up on the 2026 Super Bowl broadcast, ESPN will want him in the booth full-time by the 2025 regular season.
But for now, Peyton and Eli are fine broadcasting away from the stadiums. It’s working well. Thus, whoever convinced Peyton Manning to sign this deal must immediately take over all of ESPN’s programming decisions.