Wynton Jackson | Staff Writer
ESPN on Sept. 13 stumbled on its most popular program since First Take: The Peyton and Eli Monday night NFL broadcast, ManningCast. The sports media conglomerate signed a deal with the NFL to air Monday night games on their networks, then brought in the Manning brothers to commentate about 10 of the 17 games on ESPN2.
After their retirements, both Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were looking to get more involved in football, with Peyton hosting Peyton’s Places and Eli starting the new show Eli’s Places this fall, both on ESPN+.
The ManningCast has been nothing short of excellent. Instead of the traditional announcer-color commentator format, the Mannings have created a new approach to watching football.
The two have a more relaxed feel and aren’t pressed with hyper-analyzing each play; the broadcast resembles a night at a sports bar with the Manning brothers. The two switch seamlessly from jokes, glimpses in the huddle, anecdotes from their careers and thorough breakdowns of major plays.
Not only do Peyton and Eli run the show, but they also bring in celebrity guests to interview each quarter. Athletes such as Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Russell Wilson and Brett Favre appeared on the telecast and made fun of Peyton’s forehead.
The show has also brought in Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and Hall of Fame nominee Patrick Willis. Both did a great job breaking down the defenses in the game and how they would mess with the quarterback’s head when they played.
The mechanics of the show itself haven’t been perfect, but it only adds to its charm. The week one broadcast started with Peyton putting on a helmet that was way too small and then immediately acting like Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
There have been production workers tiptoeing in the background, Eli’s mic has been cut off a few times and they cut to commercials during conversations with guests.
What would detract from a more formal production are what make this show feel more authentic. Nobody minds awkward silence after Peyton and Eli try to talk over one another on the Zoom call because the public has been dealing with the same issues the past year and a half.
It’s early, but there’s a sense of community fostered through this broadcast. This may be why there was a 132 percent ManningCast viewership increase from Week 1 to Week 2, according to Yahoo Sports.
The broadcast’s success comes as a much-needed relief for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” considering their fiasco earlier this year.
The New York Times on July 4 published an exposé on the brewing racial issue between two of the company’s biggest talents, Maria Taylor and Rachel Nichols.
Last year, Taylor, a Black woman, was hired to host the pregame and halftime shows during the NBA Finals. Nichols, who is white and who was moved initially to the sideline reporting job, was caught on tape complaining about the situation.
“If you need to give her more things to do because you’re feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity… go for it, just find it somewhere else. Like, you’re not going to find it with me, and taking my thing away,” Nichols said on the tape, according to The New York Times.
According to the article, ESPN knew about the tape, yet instead of punishing Nichols, they decided to keep quiet. The woman who showed Taylor the clip (and who happened to be Black) was punished, and the Black employees came to her defense.
Nichols has since left the company, and Taylor accepted an offer from NBC Sports in August to cover the Olympics.
In the past few weeks, ESPN also had another, smaller issue with the company’s face, Stephen A. Smith, strong-arming former co-host Max Kellerman off of First Take. The show has taken a different approach, electing a rotating cast of debaters to challenge Smith.
Again, the timing and popularity of the ManningCast could not be more perfect. Each Monday night, social media buzzes with quotes from the Mannings or their guests, ranging from silly jokes to Gronkowski admitting he never watches film and relying on Tom Brady to tell him what to do.
There have been calls for ESPN to put the show on its main channel considering its sudden success, but for now, let’s enjoy the wackiness that is Peyton and Eli’s Monday night NFL broadcast.