Sports media: With Manning slow to take bait, ESPN should let ‘MNF’ grow
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Football has no offseason. Now football broadcasting doesn’t, either.
Jason Witten sent ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” booth into upheaval last month when he returned to the Cowboys for a 16th season at tight end. Viewers rejoiced, knowing they’ll be spared future foibles from Witten, who admittedly struggled in his first and apparently only season as a TV analyst.
But he didn’t stop people from watching. ‘‘MNF’’ ratings increased 8 percent last season from 2017, according to ESPN. It’s hard to know whether viewers took such delight in Witten’s bloopers that they watched more, or whether it had to do with, you know, football.
And that’s the point ESPN should keep in mind when determining its ‘‘MNF’’ crew for next season: The game’s the thing. Bring back play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and cart-less analyst Booger McFarland, allow them to develop their chemistry as a two-man booth and let football sell the show.
It takes time for a broadcast crew to come together. And without the burden of breaking in a newbie to the industry and the inconvenience of calling games separately, Tess and Boog could be a great listen.
There is one caveat, of course, and his name is Peyton Manning. According to the Hollywood Reporter, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro and executive vice president of content Connor Schell visited Manning last week in Denver to woo him for a spot in the booth. Manning’s interest level is unknown, but the fact he hasn’t jumped at opportunities in TV might be an indication that he’ll require some serious wooing.
ESPN has more to gain than Manning. Sports Business Journal reported the possibility of the network moving ‘‘MNF’’ to ABC in the next rights deal to get in the Super Bowl rotation (the current deal expires after the 2021 season), and select games might move sooner. What better way to reintroduce the show to broadcast TV than to have one of the game’s most transcendent former players be a part of it?
But it would cost ESPN, which already pays the most — nearly $2 billion — for the worst package of games among the NFL’s partners (although its schedule finally improved last season, aiding the ratings boost). James Andrew Miller reported in 2015 that former ‘‘MNF’’ analyst Jon Gruden made $6.5 million a year. Manning could become ESPN’s highest-paid employee. Not that he needs the money.
Of course, if Tony Romo hadn’t taken the broadcast world by storm at CBS, ESPN might not feel the need to court Manning. Romo has been so impressive in only two years that Witten’s faults were exacerbated. Now ESPN is looking to correct its mistake and then some. Manning wouldn’t come in as cold as Witten did — he already has a relationship with the network through his football-analysis show “Detail” on ESPN+ — but ESPN shouldn’t feel it has to twist his arm.
It would be practical and prudent for ESPN to let Tessitore and McFarland carry the ‘‘MNF’’ mantle next season. McFarland has the knowledge and personality to be the lead analyst. Tessitore needs to realize he isn’t calling a college game and dial it down a notch, but he’s a pro, and he’ll make the adjustment.
ESPN doesn’t require a new hire or another technological gimmick to improve ‘‘MNF.’’ It doesn’t need a new narrative to distance itself from last season. It just needs to do what it does best: broadcast the game. Football will take care of the rest.
Score’s Holmes moves to daytime
After working an erratic nighttime schedule for years on The Score, Laurence Holmes finally moves to daytime Thursday, when he’ll begin hosting regularly from noon to 2 p.m. The show will take the last hour from Dan Bernstein and Connor McKnight and the first hour from Dan McNeil and Danny Parkins. Holmes also will host a daily podcast for Radio.com.
Joe Ostrowski will host in Holmes’ old 6-10 p.m. slot when there isn’t a conflict with a game broadcast. Ostrowski will continue to host the new “Early Odds” sports-gambling show at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays.
Former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt won’t be a part of Fox’s new college football pregame show next season. The network announced plans last week for a show with two newcomers, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and retracted Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
Wannstedt, who had been part of Fox’s college football coverage since 2014, will continue his role on “Fox NFL Kickoff,” which precedes “Fox NFL Sunday.” He also will remain part of the Big Ten Network’s college football programming.
• NBC Sports Network will feature Patrick Kane during its “Star Sunday” broadcast of the Avalanche-Blackhawks game at 7 p.m. Gord Miller will call the action, and Joe Micheletti will be the “Inside-the-Glass” analyst. Former Hawk Jeremy Roenick will be on “NHL Live,” which starts at 6.
• Doug Glanville is returning to ESPN as a part-time baseball analyst, but he’ll continue his primary role on NBC Sports Chicago. Glanville was part of a massive round of layoffs at ESPN almost two years ago before joining NBCSCH.