As much as Sports Twitter® has been over the moon about the ManningCast, the amplified social media chatter didn’t translate to another bout of explosive growth for the alternative Monday Night Football feed.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the latest installment of the Peyton and Eli Show averaged 1.89 million viewers, which marked a slight 2% lift compared to Week 2’s turnout (1.86 million). While any week-to-week ratings increase is noteworthy, especially in the midst of TV’s circle-the-drain era, a net gain of 34,000 viewers on a basic-cable channel that reaches some 83.4 million households is more or less a rounding error.
Fans of the ManningCast—a cohort that includes more than a few New York sports-media types—have giddily proselytized for the show ever since it bowed on Sept. 13. When the ratings rolled in for the second telecast, they seemed to justify all the attendant tweet storms; from one week to the next, the audience grew 132% from a rather underwhelming base of 800,000 viewers.
While it is perhaps undeniable that the ESPN2 feed may not be suited for viewers conditioned to favor the time-honored booth model, anyone who’s been looking for a somewhat less structured examination of the game will appreciate what the Manning boys are getting up to here. When not deconstructing defensive schemes or reenacting what it’s like for a quarterback to have to decode his head coach’s frenzied pre-snap headset orders, the brothers spend a good deal of time making fun of each other.
As much as Peyton was born to do TV, Eli hasn’t been relegated to second-banana status. In the past three weeks, the former Giant has reeled off a treasury of one-liners about Peyton’s nightmarishly large dome, but it was a bit of physical comedy that really brought his act to the next level. Regaling guest Chris Long about his experiences with the Philly fan base during the fourth quarter of the Eagles-Cowboys game, the younger Manning recalled being heckled by a spirited young fan. After revealing that the kid had presenting him with a double-barrel single-digit salute, Eli elected to demonstrate the gesture in front of the live TV audience.
The funniest part of the bit: Eli was under the impression that ESPN2 producers could blur out his offending digits in real time. (Turns out, no.) After the commercial break, during which a Bristol suit must have asked that he maybe knock it off already with the crude hand gestures, a sheepish Eli apologized to America. “Sorry, earlier I gave the double bird,” he said. “I guess that’s frowned upon, so I apologize if I offended anybody. That’s just what a 9-year-old did to me, and I thought I could do it back.”
The guest list is another selling point, as some of sports’ most elite figures have jumped in on the Mannings’ virtual Twitch stream. Russell Wilson participated in a genius-grade breakdown of the QB play in the Ravens-Raiders game, LeBron James popped by to do LeBron James-type things during the Eagles-Cowboys blowout, and Pat McAfee electrified the second telecast with a story about Peyton’s spooky roulette prescience. Peyton’s Rolodex has also summoned the likes of Charles Barkley, Brett Favre, Ray Lewis and Nick Saban.
If the ManningCast has yet to reach an outsized audience, the show also doesn’t seem to be cannibalizing the flagship telecast. Monday night’s production accounted for 13% of the combined Monday Night Football audience, and together the two feeds averaged 14.8 million viewers. Season-to-date, ESPN’s NFL package is averaging 14.6 million viewers, up a healthy 8% from the year-ago 13.5 million.
Because the ManningCast is sold along with the core MNF telecast, there’s been no fluctuation in the cost of buying ad inventory in the new show. The national spot loads in both productions are identical, although there is some variance in what ads run during the local/affiliate breaks.
If you’re one of the nearly 2 million ManningCast converts, you’ll have to wait a few weeks for the next sidecar show. In keeping with their agreement with ESPN, which specifies that they’ll call 10 Monday night games per season, the brothers are sitting out the next two games and will return to the airwaves on Oct. 25, when the Seahawks host the Saints.