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2020 Aside, The Future Of Sports Depends On…Sports

“With a full slate of Corona-defiant events and plenty of homebound viewers watching, a fortunate sports world now should lean on its trump card: great performances that disrupt the national conversation.”

Jay Mariotti

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I’m not sure which is a bigger stinkcrock: the idea that President Trump likes Big Ten football or his comparison of police officers who shoot Black people in the back to golfers who “choke’’ when “they miss a three-foot putt.’’ But you get it. Trump is trying to influence voters in critical Big Ten-Country swing states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — while hoping Black America noticed when he cold-called the African-American commissioner about resuming the season.

That’s all it is, another pre-election ruse, best ignored by higher minds.

And while Black athletes throughout sports are poised to boycott more games — and seasons — if necessary, my same advice applies regarding Trump’s latest Twitter warning to NFL and Major League Baseball players. He no longer wants them kneeling for the national anthem, as NBA players continue to do, and while protesting should be their choice for as long as they damn well please, I’m compelled to issue a reminder amid the tumult and fear of 2020 America: Social awareness aside, athletes still can make overpowering statements about who they are and what they stand for while competing on fields and courts of play. “People are tired of watching the highly political @NBA,’’ Trump typed yet again. “Basketball ratings are way down, and they won’t be coming back. I hope football and baseball are watching and learning, because the same thing will be happening to them. Stand tall for our Country and our Flag!!!’’

What, only three exclamation points?

Sometime soon, such as right now, sports should jackhammer through the fury and frustration and just let sports take over. It alarms me, as you know, when Neymar vacations in Ibiza and, of course, becomes the latest soccer superstar to test positive for the coronavirus. But rather than ask why Neymar was in Ibiza, fans of Paris Saint-Germain just count down his 14 days of quarantine (and those of two teammates) as if they have sore quads. So, for now, I’m giving up on preaching common sense even in an ongoing pandemic storm. If leagues insist on flipping off COVID-19 and jeopardizing health to play games — or, as Kirk Cousins foolishly told Kyle Brandt, “If I die, I die. I kind of have peace about that,’’ — then the mindset moving forward should be to entertain and dazzle the masses and at least disrupt the political conversation.

Live and let die? Live and let live, says sports — defiantly.

Somehow, September launches a 10-week Coronapalooza of TV-tailored events that evidently, unless the world ends or the virus swallows us whole, will include the NFL regular season, Southern-fried college football, the U.S. Opens of tennis and golf, the NBA Finals, Major League Baseball’s playoffs and World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals, two Triple Crown events in horse racing and, finally, the Masters in mid-November. I’m not sure how we got here, viewing all of this as a Petri dish for medical disaster, but I’ve come to realize I’m not risking my health out there. If athletes decide to risk their immune systems, why don’t we watch and wait for the usual thrills while hoping — no, praying — there isn’t a superspread?

This will be remembered as the year when sports, like our country, washijacked by a cocktail of coronavirus, social injustice and police brutality. The hatred inevitably continues this week, at the Kentucky Derby, where the trainer for favorite Tiz The Law exacerbated protest tensions ahead of the race. Said Barclay Tagg: “I don’t know what these guys are gonna do, these rioters. Who knows? All I know is, you’re not allowed to shoot them and they’re allowed to shoot you. That’s what it looks like to me.” Tiz The Law should boycott, I say. Other horses should follow.

But sports doesn’t have to remain in the toxic haze, imprisoned by the moment. With seasons in full bloom, for better or worse, the industry does have a chance to give itself oxygen — and a stronger future — by reminding us of what sports does best: delivering emphatic, riveting performances that bring us back for more. Only sports can save sports. And athletes and leagues must realize that viewers are still watching in surprisingly sizable numbers, in Bubbles and beyond, and that their best collective revenge is to provide great moments despite surreal and volatile circumstances.

Already, we’re seeing examples of stuff that cuts through the difficulty and awkwardness of taking sports seriously amid so much tumult. As much as their energy and noise are missed, we’ve learned to adapt without fans in the stands. The NBA playoffs haven’t missed a beat since last week’s game boycotts, with two Game 7s and flopping drama involving Chris Paul and the former teammate who wanted him out of Houston, James Harden (who still sucks in the postseason). Is this the year an upstart contender, such as the Heat, shocks the world? With an upset of the Bucks, will the door open for Miami to trade for an unfulfilled and playoff-underachieving Giannis Antetokounmpo? A likely Western final between the shiny Lakers and gritty Clippers should be held in a downtown L.A. alley, but the Bubble will do. Still, who might ditch Disney World first: LeBron James or one of many Clippers candidates? And now that family members and friends are allowed in the Bubble, is COVID-19 plotting a sneak attack?

To preserve continuity and fortify the future, it’s vital that each league generates competitive momentum this year and proves its sturdiness. The NBA has a fraught future, with a business model dependent on the arena experience and lucrative sponsorships. But the NFL, though cavalier about obvious virus concerns that could shut down the season, is positioned to thrive because of revenue feeders frothing at the mouth for next week’s season opener: broadcast networks, gambling sites and loyal advertisers who’ve remained on board. It remains to be seen if players will boycott games if faced with social justice opposition from the league.

But if the virus and Jerry Jones allow, the NFL doesn’t lack for intrigue: Tom Brady fighting time in Tampa with crazy-uncle Bruce Arians and party-boy Rob Gronkowski … Bill Belichick, with his new Subway ads, risking his system-is-king legacy on Cam Newton … Aaron Rodgers against the world, including his own bosses, as Jordan Love stands by in Green Bay … Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, trying to build a dynasty and helped by 16,000 fans in the seats, creating a competitive imbalance for 25 teams that won’t have home fans to start the season … Amid thick racial tension, will the Saints forgive Drew Brees for his insensitive words or turn on him if he plays like an old man? … Cincinnati, a dead end for football joy, hopes Joe Burrow provides life support … The Browns, with their third head coach in two years, try to avoid inevitable dysfunction with Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. and Myles Garrett in the house … Will Lamar Jackson realize there’s more to football than a regular season? … Tua Time in Miami? … The Bills as a sleeper? … And what if Cousins contracts the virus and spreads it to his Minnesota teammates?

“If I get it, I’m gonna ride it out. I’m gonna let nature do its course,’’ said Cousins, before lamely trying to clarify the comments. “Survival-of-the-fittest kind of approach. And just say, if it knocks me out, it knocks me out. I’m going to be OK. You know, even if I die.” You know.

What if a teammate sneezed in the huddle? “Within the building, there’s gonna be a dichotomy of people who couldn’t care less about the virus, have no concern about it, have never lost a minute of sleep about it,’’ Cousins said. “And then you get people on the other side of the spectrum who, every second of every day, they’re consumed with fear about it. What you don’t know is who’s where on the spectrum when you first go back.”

You don’t think that attitude could divide a locker room, do ya, Kirk?

The NFL’s COVID-iots need only to examine the virus struggles of MLB, also played outdoors without a restrictive Bubble environment. It will be a miracle if baseball and its inept commissioner, Rob Manfred, get through a postseason and crown a champion. Also notice how teams keep wanting to brawl, including the Rays and Yankees, a disgraceful pandemic scene that saw Aroldis Chapman throw a 101-mph fastball near the head of a Tampa Bay pinch-hitter while each manager was suspended a game. It’s a shame because MLB broadcast ratings, on a steep decline for years, have been helped by pandemic audiences with limited entertainment options and a lack of original programming. People are so desperate for anything to do, including women and young people, they’re actually watching baseball. But unlike the NBA, which has suffered a Trump-gleeful ratings drop, MLB doesn’t move us with story lines. When the San Diego Padres create the most buzz — thanks only to Fernando Tatis Jr. and a flurry of trade-deadline activity — it doesn’t bode well for October interest when football and the NBA Finals will rule sports chatter. Imagine a San Diego-Tampa Bay World Series. As industry stories, low-revenue teams are sweethearts.

They also make for record-low postseason ratings, with games slower than ever and diluted by the same home-run binges that reek of fake news.

Hockey? Only the diehards are watching, but like NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NHL boss Gary Bettman is impressively surviving his Bubble experiment without a COVID-19 disruption. Players are ignoring protocols and fighting — 11 bouts so far, triple the rate of last year’s playoffs — but at least we’ve learned what is tantalizing about Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. By the way, three Tampa teams — Lightning, Rays, Buccaneers — could flirt with championships.

Only in a pandemic.

Just like a Cubs-White Sox World Series.

Sports simply has to keep selling the goods through the madness. The formula is time-tried and reliable. Collin Morikawa sold us with his electric finish at the PGA Championship, creating fun noise for golf’s U.S. Open and Masters as Tiger Woods fades and Phil Mickelson tweets. Serena Williams gets a big headline if she wins her 24th Grand Slam title in New York. All day and all night, sports events are on TV, a dream for fans and gamblers.

It’s almost enough to make one back-burner the politics. An important case study is the Bucks. As the first team to boycott a playoff game after the shooting of Jacob Blake, in Milwaukee’s backyard of Kenosha, Wis., the players were dismayed when the state’s Republican-bent legislature didn’t take immediate action this week on proposed policing measures. Have the Bucks been so consumed by politics that they’ve lost focus on why they’re in Florida? If so, it’s a sour development for a championship contender trying to retain Giannis long-term.

Said veteran guard Kyle Korver: “It was disappointing. Surely, there are things to talk about right now, right? Like surely there are things that our state needs leadership in and how can we be better. What we’re trying to figure out as a team is, we don’t want to be aligned politically. Sport has always had the opportunity to be a bridge in life in so many ways, and that’s what we’re trying to do as a team. We’re trying to find that balance. There’s things going on in our country that are more important than basketball.’’

America is well aware. Yet in the pursuit of higher moral ground, sports cannot forget its primary purpose. After a harrowing spring and summer in a weary, bleary republic, autumn is upon us, and people still want to watch games and events. This is a lucky opportunity, nothing short of shocking.

So entertain them, would you please?

BSM Writers

How Are Broadcasters Supposed To Cover Alabama Basketball Right Now?

“It’s obviously not in the comfort zone of most sports broadcasters to be talking about violent acts off the court”

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As you’ve probably seen or read by now, Alabama men’s basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder in connection with an early morning shooting last weekend near the Tuscaloosa campus. A 23-year-old woman was killed.  Miles, a junior forward from Washington DC, is no longer on the team. 

Last Saturday, Alabama had announced before its game against LSU that Miles would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Following Miles’ arrest his bio has been removed from the athletic department website, and the university’s statement said he “has been removed from campus.”

It’s another incident that puts sports in proper perspective. There have been too many of these ‘incidents’ lately. Whether it be due to gun violence, sexual violence, bus or plane crashes, or the latest tragedy when we all watched a man brought back to life on a football field. Sports is meant to be entertainment, a way to escape the challenges of everyday life. Now it seems to be causing us to think more about outside noise than the actual games that we’re supposed to be watching. 

Let’s focus for the moment on the Alabama situation. The Crimson Tide are having a basketball season for the ages. As of the time I’m writing this, Alabama is #4 in the AP Top 25 with a record of 15-2. Many analysts and experts in college basketball circles think this team is actually the best team in the country. A good bet for the Final Four perhaps and maybe even a national title. Now what? 

Head basketball coach Nate Oats spoke to reporters Monday, but not about his team’s prep for another game and a chance at another win. He had to speak about something he probably never imagined he’d have to in his career. One of his now former players has been charged with murder. 

“I just want to start by offering condolences to the family and friends of Jamea Jonae Harris, the young woman, mother, daughter who was taken away too soon from a senseless act,” Oats said in a prepared statement. “This is an incredibly sad situation. Hearts go out to her loved ones. I’m keeping them in my thoughts and prayers as they continue to grieve.”

Oats called it a tragedy all around, especially for the victim’s family. He then addressed the message to his players. 

“Wish we weren’t having to address this situation, but we’ve got to pull together as a team at this point and … really be there for each other.” Oats said. “This is a really difficult situation, and we’ll continue to support each other as we process this and balance school and basketball,” Oats said. “To that end, we regrouped this morning to maintain our routine and some structure in the midst of this situation and we’ll practice before heading up to Nashville for the Vanderbilt game.”

Last week we talked about the handling of the Damar Hamlin situation, that unfolded on the field in Cincinnati during the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals. Hamlin needed to be resuscitated once on the field and once on the way to the hospital. ESPN’s broadcast crew handled the situation about as well as they could. Information was scarce and there was no room for rumor or speculation. 

Now, bringing it back to Alabama, what do you do, when you’re a broadcaster for the Crimson Tide? How much attention should be given to the shooting and the results? 

Once again there is no handbook to say, okay you do this, then this and then this. Nope. I’m sure ‘higher ups’ at the school and the stations will have some input as to how it will be handled. It’s a delicate situation to say the least. A life was lost. A player that, more than likely, the broadcast crew interacted with numerous times, has been accused of murder. All of it makes you really think. 

So, here’s how the crew on the SEC Network decided to handle talking about the Darius Miles arrest during the Alabama/Vanderbilt game. The announcers, Courtney Lyle on play-by-play and Carolyn Peck as the analyst, briefly mentioned the Miles situation at the start of the game. Saying they would talk about “what Alabama has been dealing with off the court.” 

There was no further mention through the first media timeout. Instead, they talked basketball, including talk of Vandy’s upset of Arkansas and Nate Oats’ notes about Alabama’s defense in recent games.  

Coming out of the first timeout, ESPN put up a graphic stating the charges against Miles and some of Coach Oats’ comments about the situation and his team. Peck then spoke about Oats and how he told his team about the charges. The story she told, continued saying how Oats brought the team together Sunday and let them decide whether or not to practice. They chose to skip Sunday and regroup according to her commentary. 

It’s obviously not in the comfort zone of most sports broadcasters to be talking about violent acts off the court. I’m not sure what was said to Lyle and Peck before the broadcast, so it’s hard to really critique. 

Having said that, I really wish Peck, who is a former college basketball coach, could have spoken about what Oats must be going through. He had to tell his team that one of their fellow players was accused of murder. Peck might have also delved into what the job of a coach is, off the floor. Looking out for his or her players as people as well as athletes. Again, it’s easy for me to say, and I’m not privy to what the broadcasters were allowed to say by producers or the school. I just felt like an opportunity to humanize the story went by the boards. Especially from a credible source, like a former coach. 

I’ve never been in the situation directly. I’ve had to deal with deaths during broadcasts. I  mentioned the Daryl Kile game in 2002 a couple of years ago in a column. When I was with the Padres, our bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds fought an admiral bout with cancer, but succumbed to the disease in the middle of our 2012 season. I knew Akerfelds and actually had a hard time keeping it together when news of his passing was made public. This Alabama situation is totally different. 

To me, there are a few things broadcasters need to keep in mind when dealing with situations like these. Our natural inclination is not to want to talk about it. We just want to concentrate on the games and what’s happening on the court or field. I get that. Audiences are going to tune in and, especially in the case of a local broadcast, wanting to know what’s happening from their trusted voice – you. Fair or not, that’s the position you’ll likely find yourself in, if God forbid this happens to one of your teams. 

One thing that is absolutely critical in this particular situation, is wording. Remember in the United States, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. While the court of public opinion may have already made up its mind, you do not have the luxury to do so. Verbiage is very important. Miles has been ‘charged’ with capital murder. He is ‘alleged’ to have provided a gun to the shooter. You as the broadcaster have to play it straight, even if you have the opinion that he’s guilty, that’s not the case right now.  

The problem here is that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you read the statement from the school, the audience will say “that’s not enough”. If you go into detail and let it consume the broadcast, others will say, “enough, we already know this, get on with the game,” right?  

Case in point, NFL broadcasters took a lot of heat for coverage of the return to the field of DeShaun Watson. The Browns quarterback was accused by numerous women of sexual misconduct and was suspended for 11 games. The CBS telecast, according to a New York Times article, covered the accusations against Watson about 10 minutes before kickoff but the complaints made against Watson were not detailed during the game itself.

Late in the game, the CBS play-by-play announcer Spero Dedes mentioned the “mixed emotions” of Browns fans as they reckoned with the “weightiness of the allegations with Watson.” 

Analyst Jay Feely added, “We were conflicted, getting ready to prepare for this game, because you want to show empathy for the women impacted and affected by this.” Feely said.“You have to talk about football as well.” 

I get it, these were serious allegations and there were numerous complaints about Watson. Not to minimize the impact of his actions, but Dedes and Feely are expected to talk about the game on the field. Are football fans tuned in for social commentary?  There are many other outlets for more pointed opinions. Just by mentioning the gravity of what was going on, they probably said more than a lot of fans expected. 

To have an opinion on something other than sports as a sportscaster opens you up to the “stick to sports” tired reaction from fans. This is the problem. Incidents like this, straddle the line between sports and news. How much should be handled by each department is pretty critical. During some recent sportscasts I’ve delivered, I had to talk about the news of journalist Grant Wahl dying in Qatar. While everyone wanted to know how and why, I only talked about the facts, and the decorated journalists’ career. Our news department carried the rest. 

Judgement and true feelings are at play here. We are human beings and everyone reacts to tragedy and death differently. In our situation as broadcasters, we have to be sympathetic to the victim, empathetic for what the team is now going through and realistic as to how much you should or shouldn’t say about the situation. There is no cut and dry way to handle this, you do the best you can and that’s all that can be asked of you. 

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BSM Writers

Nick Coffey Embracing New Afternoon Role on Rebranded Sports Talk 790AM

“I’m a fan, I’m fair, I’m objective and we’re going to talk about both teams, because that’s what our audience is.”

Tyler McComas

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The clock hits 4:45 AM inside the home of Nick Coffey and there’s nothing but complete silence. Nobody in the house is awake, no coffee is brewing, only a family sleeping in the darkness of the night Louisville sky.

But this is somewhat of a new occurrence for the Coffey household. That’s because it wasn’t long ago when dad was up and around before 5:00 AM to make it on time to host his morning radio show. In fact, only about two weeks. But with a recent rebrand of his station and a move to afternoon drive, he’s no longer the dad that’s out the door before his kids wake up. He’s the dad that gets to take his kids to school in the morning.

Cards Radio 790 WKRD in Louisville was recently rebranded to Sports Talk 790AM. The gist of the rebrand is that the station and The University of Louisville had — according to Coffey — a mutual agreement to part ways. 

“We were Cards Radio 790 WKRD for many years, long before I was here,” said Coffey. “We did not renew, and it was more of a mutual thing. We had the rights to U of L football and basketball games for quite some time and that kind of limited us from doing a whole lot, because their logo was on the station.”

What Coffey means by limiting the station is they didn’t previously put a lot of University of Kentucky coverage on the station. At the time, it didn’t make a lot of sense to do so, especially with the close relationship the station had with U of L. And as you can imagine, the university didn’t love UK coverage on the station. 

The move to Sports Talk 790AM has completely changed that philosophy. Now, along with coverage of Louisville athletics, coverage of Kentucky is more prevalent on the station than ever before. The move is a smart one, because even though there’s a large collection of Louisville fans in the state, there are more UK fans. 

“Once our deal with U of L ran out during the summer, our plan was to make 790 a sports specific station that’s going to have — I’m a Louisville fan myself — but there’s a ton of Kentucky fans in Louisville,” said Coffery. “My shift has really been focusing on, you know where my allegiances lie. I’m a fan, I’m fair, I’m objective and we’re going to talk about both teams, because that’s what our audience is. Getting away from the Cards Radio brand really opened us up to where we’re not just sticking to just one side.”

Adding content with a Kentucky twist was also a plan for the rebrand. That includes Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio and the huge following he brings. Granted, Sports Talk 790AM isn’t the only place you can hear KSR — there are several affiliates across the state — but it was a plan to bolster coverage of UK on the station.

“He has a monster of a show and there’s a ton of statewide affiliates,” said Coffey. “Because of our relationship with U of L before, we had to put him on a sister station of ours, at Talk Radio 1080 which is just an AM signal we put our paid programming on. This just freed us up to build what we hope to be, sort of a monster here in sports.”

Part of that plan was to move Coffey and Company to afternoon drive. Granted, Coffey loved morning radio despite the early morning grind, he was pitched on the overall benefit of the station. 

“What was pitched to me when I decided to make the move to afternoons,” said Coffey. “One, I thought it would just be better for the station. And if it’s better for the station, it’s better for me. Also, I have the chance to get on these other affiliates, where I’m not just on in Louisville.”

Maybe this wasn’t included in the pitch to move to afternoons, but Coffey had to think about what the move could do for his daily lifestyle. So far after just two weeks, he loves what the new adjustment has brought to his life. 

“So far it’s been awesome, because I’m still getting up early, but there’s a difference between getting up at 7:45 and 4:45,” laughed Coffey. “I’m just getting more sleep and throughout the day I’m more energized and ready to go.

“After a year of morning drive I remember thinking I didn’t want to do anything else, because I loved the thought of people starting the day with whatever we got for them. It’s also nice to have your shift end pretty early, when you wrap it up. I could stay after and get a head start on the next day, talk to clients, and be out of there by 12:30 PM. That was beneficial, but now I get to wake up, I’m in charge of the kids in the morning. That’s something I really enjoy. So far so good.”

Coffey is big on show prep, just like any other successful host is. The dynamic of prepping a morning show compared to an afternoon show is vastly different. That’s been a change for Coffey, but there’s another element of his changed lifestyle that he’s found that really helps his prep. 

“When I prepare for my show I try to be as informative as I can and I’m ready to give fresh thoughts,” said Coffey. “But I also like to talk about things that go on in my daily life. I’ve noticed in the two weeks we’ve been here, I’ve got 7-8 hours where I’m up and there’s a lot of things I can bring to the show. So far I really do enjoy it.”

It was a smart move for Sports Talk 790AM to rebrand and focus more on Kentucky. The reasoning for it is pretty simple. It’s the largest sports entity in the state and is considered a “blue blood program” in college basketball, which has the most rabid following in Kentucky. But Louisville also has a following with a lot of passion.

When you have a station that previously focused almost entirely on U of L, a change to cover more of the bitter rival probably didn’t go over too well for most of the fans. That has certainly been the case in some instances, but overall, the feedback has been strong. 

“I think if we get eight responses, six will be positive, two will be negative and you find yourself focusing more on the negative,” said Coffey. “I think that’s just human nature with some people. I think the reaction has been good overall. This state is just filled with Kentucky fans. Louisville fans, and I’m one of them, they don’t seem to like to hear this but it’s true, in Louisville it’s about 50/50.”

But as much as Kentucky might be more in the conversation, Louisville coverage is still very present on the station. Especially with Coffey and Company in afternoons.

“What I try to emphasize to people is you didn’t get any less U of L coverage, I’m just now in the afternoons. I think top to bottom, just not being Cards Radio has opened us up to new clients that want to advertise. People know now they’re going to get both UK and U of L.”

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BSM Writers

Programmers Offer Ideas To Refresh The ManningCast in Year 3

Matt Edgar, Matt Fishman, Parker Hills, Q Meyers, Jimmy Powers and Kraig Riley share their thoughts.

Demetri Ravanos

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Monday night brought the second season of The ManningCast to a close. ESPN’s alternate broadcast of Monday Night Football featuring Peyton and Eli Manning remains a trail blazer. Plenty of other networks and other sports have tried to copy the formula. It just never seems to work as well. There is something about these guys, their chemistry, and their view of football that just works.

Still, the ManningCast missed that feeling of freshness this year. It’s nobody’s fault. We had expectations. That is very different from 2021, when this was a wild, new concept.

The circumstances at ESPN have changed too. In 2021, the network was looking for a crew that could capture the big game feel of the Monday night slot, because it didn’t have it on the main broadcast. Now, it has Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, arguably the two voices most identified with big NFL games. That means the Mannings have to do more than just provide a star-powered alternative to the main broadcast.

Going into 2023, the ManningCast will be facing a problem that is pretty common in radio. How do you improve something that works? Reinvention isn’t necessary for the broadcast, but a recalibration would certainly raise the ceiling.

“Disney isn’t looking at Peyton Manning as part of ESPN,” I wrote in 2021. “They are looking at him as Mickey Mouse or Iron Man or Baby Yoda. He is another of Disney’s mega-brands that is talked about on investor calls and upfront presentations.”

With that kind of commitment from the network in mind, I asked six radio program directors to answer two questions.

1. Going into year 3, how has your view of the ManningCast changed since its debut?

Matt Edgar (680 The Fan in Atlanta) – I view the ManningCast as the standard of all alternate game broadcasts, nothing really comes close.  

Matt Fishman (850 ESPN in Cleveland) – The real challenge is how to be more interesting and entertaining each week. The first year was a great novelty. A real breath of fresh air, especially with some underwhelming games.

Now that ESPN MNF’s main broadcast is the powerhouse of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, you need to be bigger and more unique to get people to check it out. 

Parker Hillis (Sports Radio 610 in Houston) – Early on I was skeptical of the ManningCast. I wanted a “two guys hanging out at the bar talking football” vibe that was less formal and more fun. What I got in the beginning was not that. The broadcasts leaned heavily into Peyton’s football IQ, diving way too deep into X and O analysis in real-time and providing more of a distraction than a benefit. The production and pacing felt clunky and awkward, another distraction. And most frustratingly, I didn’t get anything out of Peyton and Eli’s personalities.

Somewhere along the way, as the concept has been refined and Peyton and Eli clearly have gotten more comfortable, they’ve gotten there. Two goofy football nerds with incredible insight and experience seamlessly meshing smart analysis with real football fandom. They’re inviting me in to watch the game with them, not telling me what I need to know about what’s going on, and that is something I can get into and really enjoy. 

Q Myers (ESPN Las Vegas & Raider Nation Radio in Las Vegas) – For me personally it hasn’t changed much. I find it entertaining but only in a small serving size. I might pop on for an interview with a guest that I really want to hear from but then tune out. I really enjoy the game being the bigger feature, and I realize for a lot of the games that aren’t that great this could help out a bit. 

Jimmy Powers (97.1 The Ticket in Detroit) – It hasn’t really.  I’ve enjoyed it from the beginning and thought it was genius when it debuted! I think it has given many sports fans an alternative option to the traditional broadcast, which allows them to get a better understanding of what is going on. In my opinion, the knowledge and entertainment value they bring to the viewer is excellent! 

Kraig Riley (93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh) – My view has changed in that, as much as I loved it when it debuted, I questioned the long-term sustainability given how driven it was by the guests they welcomed in. I always wanted more of the Peyton-Eli brotherly relationship part of it. Their breakdowns of the game were good and so were the guests, but what were they going to do to add to that? Since they’ve shown more of their personalities, it stands out more in a way that separates itself from just watching the standard broadcast of the game.  


2. As a programmer, what would you do to freshen up this brand next season?

Edgar – You don’t want to get gimmicky or clownish, but I’d love to see them talk with a mic’d up player, similar to what they do on Sunday Night Baseball. They obviously can’t speak with a player between the lines, but what about someone who is in the mix and actually playing, like a linebacker after the defense comes off the field?    

Fishman – To me, the biggest “miss” is not having Eli and Peyton in the same place. It creates a certain sloppiness and a decent amount of talking over each other. Some of that gives it the casualness that’s appealing and some of it is just messy. It’s sort of like Zoom calls. They were fine when you needed them during the pandemic, but if you can do it in person, it’s better. 

Hillis – It might not be “freshening it up”, but the biggest thing I would do to tweak the Manningcast is limit the interviews. Peyton and Eli can carry the broadcast with their personalities and knowledge alone.

Having big name guests from the NFL, the sports world, and pop culture makes for a great promotion piece to draw in a different audience, but at the end of the day, it’s distracting and pulls away from the game I’m watching and the brand of the broadcast itself. I want to connect with Peyton and Eli… that’s what the brand is built around, so give me more of them. 

Myers – I think keeping it a little more tight as far as breakdowns and analysis from the two make it good. A lot of times when it gets off the rails it does tend to be funny, but I don’t feel like I learn a lot from it. It feels to me like a lot of the comedic side of things is forced at times, when it happens organically it just seems better. For example, with Peyton walking off after Maher missed his 3rd kick. That felt like what we all were doing at the time.

Powers – Since they only do a number of games, I would put the two of them together in the same room to view the games. You could still split the screens and have the same look – but it would prevent (or at least limit) the talking over each other because of the delay.  That is especially a problem when they bring in 3rd person. 

Riley – I would push for more of the content that stands out aside from the game and can be pushed on social. I think the original audience will always need more in order to continue engaging with them over the standard broadcast of the game. That audience knows their broadcast is different, but what about the audience that hasn’t engaged yet or has possibly disengaged? 

Serve them up with some breakdowns of the game that only Peyton and Eli can provide. Give them the best clips of the interviews. But super-serve them on the entertainment and personality sides so that the audience knows they’re getting something more than just the game. They can consume that elsewhere.


The ManningCast is not in danger. It’s one of the most influential sports television products of the last 15 years. Even radio is trying to figure out a way to make it work. Edgar’s station, 680 The Fan, delivered a conversational alternate broadcast of the Peach Bowl this year.

Like anything else in pop culture though, the producers always have to think about what is next. How do you tempt fans to come back for more? It’s why we don’t see Spider-Man fight the same villain in every movie. When you know the parameters, the content has to be all killer and no filler just to move the needle.

But this is a product built around live sports. By nature, there is plenty of filler in a football game broadcast. That isn’t the Mannings’ fault, and most weeks, they find a way to make gold in those moments. Going into the 2023 football season though, the novelty of the ManningCast, and frankly of alternate broadcasts in general, will have worn off. Peyton and Eli don’t have to change everything, but re-evaluating where their show stands and where it could go wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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Barrett Media Writers

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