ESPN has finally landed the elusive Peyton Manning, signing the former quarterback to call the action during its Monday Night Football telecasts. Well, sort of.
A year after the five-time MVP and Hall of Famer turned down ESPN’s most recent offer to join the network’s NFL broadcast team, the two sides have reached a compromise. As part of a deal struck with Manning’s Omaha Productions, the 45-year-old and his younger brother Eli will huddle up for an alternate MNF feed to air on ESPN2.
Beginning this fall, the Mannings will team up to call the action for 10 Monday night games—from a remote location. According to a release issued by ESPN on Monday afternoon, the Manning MegaCast also may stream on ESPN+, which since 2019 has been home to Omaha’s football-themed doc series Peyton’s Places. (A handful of Place-branded spinoffs, featuring the likes of David Ortiz, Abby Wambach and Vince Carter, will roll out over the next 12 months.)
While luring Peyton Manning to the virtual booth isn’t as big a score as getting him into the regular MNF rotation would have been, the move effectively dispels the notion that the former signal caller has altogether ruled out a broadcast career. There may be no better way for ESPN to transmit the broadcasting bug to Manning than paying him to make wisecracks with his brother while entertaining a slew of celebrity guests. More to the point, the alternative game-day set-up should eliminate many of the seemingly inevitable comparisons to present-day network stars like CBS’ Tony Romo and NBC’s incoming Notre Dame analyst, Drew Brees.
Manning’s new gig with ESPN also puts to rest any further speculation that he’ll join Amazon Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football team when the streamer begins its stewardship of the weekday NFL package in 2022. Manning’s 30-game pact with ESPN extends through the 2023 season.
A year ago, ESPN was said to be prepared to offer the elder Manning as much as $15 million per season to serve as its NFL color commentator. This was at least the second formal overture from Bristol that Manning declined. Back in 2018, both ESPN and Fox tried to land the former QB, who boasts a top-shelf football brain and an ease in front of the mic that can’t be taught. He’s also genuinely funny, as anyone who’s seen his guest stint on Saturday Night Live can attest.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
The Manning MegaCast will bow on Monday, Sept. 13, when ESPN kicks off its NFL season with Ravens-Raiders. ABC will simulcast the game, which will coincide with the first time fans are allowed inside Allegiant Stadium. Subsequent ManningCasts will follow on the 20th (Lions-Packers) and 27th (Eagles-Dallas), with the seven remaining games to be announced later.
More likely than not, ESPN will look to lock in the Mannings to call at least one of its upcoming Giants games, if only to give Eli a chance to talk up Big Blue. New York travels to Kansas City on Nov. 1 and has a date in Tampa with Tom Brady and the Bucs three days before Thanksgiving.
“This partnership with ESPN and the Walt Disney Company reflects an ongoing, shared commitment to offering fans fun, innovative content,” said Peyton Manning, by way of announcing the deal. “ESPN+ has been a terrific partner for Omaha Productions as we built out The Places franchise, and we’re excited to co-create a new MegaCast format that will have something for everyone.”
While the Manning experiment promises to offer a particularly novel approach to ESPN’s NFL production, the flagship MNF crew from 2020 (Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick, Lisa Salters and John Parry) will remain in place.