Manningcast Week 17 audience slips below 1.5 million

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Network P.R. people know how to find a way to spin ratings better than Rumpelstiltskin with a barn full of hay. And the folks at the four-letter network spent some extra time today turning Nielsen numbers into ratings gold.

For Monday night’s Browns-Steelers All-About-Ben game on ESPN and other Disney platforms, the total viewership was 13.256 million. Of that amount, only 1.48 million tuned in for a star-studded Manningcast on ESPN2, which had Bill Cowher, Roger Goodell, Snoop Dogg, and Aaron Rodgers join Peyton and Eli.

The 1.48 million viewers lands at No. 8 of nine Manningcasts in the 2021 season. The biggest crowd tuned in for the Week Eight game between the Giants and the Chiefs, with 1.96 million.

The Monday night Manningcast audience accounted for only 11.1 percent of the total ESPN audience. This once again raises the question of whether it’s worth it, from a business standpoint, to plunk down whatever many millions are being devoted to the Peyton and Eli show. Are more total people tuning in to watch football on Monday nights because of the Manningcast, or are the Brothers Manning simply siphoning from the main broadcast, with no net gain?

The media (and social media) love the Manningcast. I can’t watch it live, because I’d rather focus on the game. (I tape it and watch it the next day, and I like it.) The best outcome for Bristol would be to get Peyton and Eli in the booth every week, as the main analysts.

But the Mannings don’t seem to be inclined to do that. They’d have to travel. They’d definitely want (and deserve) a lot more money. They’d possibly feel compelled to be more polished (even though the best move would be to keep doing what they do). And Peyton definitely wouldn’t tolerate an alternate broadcast that would potentially take viewers away from his production.

There’s one more data point before the 2021 season ends for the Manningcast and Monday Night Football. They’ll return for a tenth and final time, during the wild-card game that ESPN and ABC will televise to cap the first round of the postseason.

They’re under contract for two more years. It will be interesting to see whether the percentages shift in 2022. It also will be interesting to see whether ESPN (and its corporate parent) can justify investing so much money into a secondary broadcast that may not be doing anything to improve the bottom-line performance of Monday Night Football. Indeed, there’s a chance that the entire operation has become less profitable due to equal revenue and dramatically increased expense.

At some point, that kind of dynamic will activate the radar screen of a bean counter with sufficient juice to pull the plug.