Circle “Monday Night Football’s” Week 2 telecast during the NFL’s upcoming 2020 season. Not only will it be the Las Vegas Raiders’ first home date, but the September 21 game will also mark ABC’s first regular-season NFL telecast in 15 years.
On the 50th anniversary of “Monday Night Football,” Walt Disney Co. sister networks ABC and ESPN will both televise the Raiders vs. New Orleans Saints.
Broadcast network ABC could televise a straightforward simulcast of ESPN’s telecast. However, ESPN may “MegaCast” that evening’s “Monday Night Football” game the way it offers more than a dozen alternate watching options for the CFP National Championship Game, said sources.
That means ABC and ESPN could employ different teams of announcers, different camera angles, or different coverage approaches, for the same NFL game.
ESPN’s telecast, for example, would feature the regular announcing crew that calls every game. ABC’s coverage, on the other hand, might offer viewers the opportunity to hear the home team’s local radio announcers call the game. In this case, it would be Brent Musburger, the play-by-play voice of the Raiders.
Or ABC could offer viewers the ability to watch the game from different angles, such as the popular SkyCam view above and behind the action on the field.
Having a single media partner offer alternate game telecasts on sister networks would mark a radically new approach for the NFL.
For decades, ESPN, CBS, NBC, Fox and NFL Network offered one announce team and one telecast per game, giving viewers no other choice if they wanted to watch the game.
One of the few exceptions is during ESPN’s annual season-opening “Monday Night Football” doubleheader, which requires two broadcast crews. This season, ESPN will again employ different announce teams on Sep. 14, which will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants and Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos.
Besides the CFP National Championship, Disney has been MegaCasting the NFL Draft for several years, noted former ESPN executive John Kosner.
ESPN offers the traditional X’s and O’s version of the Draft with guru Mel Kiper and Trey Wingo. ABC, on the other hand, takes a more college football-centric approach with Kirk Herbstreit and the “College GameDay” crew. Kosner called using that same approach for live games as a “differentiating opportunity for ESPN.”
“Even if there’s a ‘one size fits all’ game call that serves the majority of viewers, an event of the magnitude of ‘Monday Night Football’ lends itself to a broader audience approach,” he said.
Gus Ramsey, the former ESPN producer turned program director at the Dan Patrick School of Broadcasting, thinks plenty of viewers would watch an alternate call by Musburger. Or other different studio shows on the Las Vegas Strip and inviting entertainers to stop by to turn the game into more of a spectacle. Or even have its fantasy sports expert Matthew Berry host a fantasy football-focused telecast.
“Let’s start with the premise, and it’s a fair one, that not everybody is necessarily in love with the broadcast team – regardless of who it is or who it might be. So maybe on one channel, you get the home radio team. On the other, you get the visiting radio team. Then you simulcast them along with the game,” said Ramsey.
The NFL has made some inroads into multiple telecasts of the same game.
The league already tri-casts “Thursday Night Football” on broadcast TV on Fox, cable TV on NFL Network, and digital on Amazon Prime Video and Twitch. Amazon’s streaming coverage does not feature Fox/NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football” announce team of Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Erin Andrews.
Instead, Amazon hired Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer to deliver an optional feed to Fox’s coverage to more than 200 countries in 2018. They’re the only female crew to call live NFL games.
In 2017, the NFL signed a one-year streaming deal with Amazon, which owns Twitch, worth $50 million. Amazon and the NFL signed a two-year extension the next year at a rate of $65 million per season. This spring, the two sides signed a three-year extension worth over $200 million.
Meanwhile, both ESPN and Fox Sports offer separate, Spanish-language versions of “Monday Night Football” and “Thursday Night Football” on ESPN Deportes and Fox Deportes.
Before the kickoff of the 2019 season, Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president of media, said the league was “certainly open” to more alternate video/audio/digital feeds as more viewers migrate from linear to digital platforms.
“You see what we’re doing on ‘Thursday Night Football.’ We’re not only distributing 11 of those games on Amazon Prime but they’re also on Twitch (a platform for gamers),” said Rolapp.
On Monday, NFL spokesman Alex Reithmiller said the league’s stance hadn’t changed.
The NFL will continue to “experiment,” mostly around “Thursday Night Football” which the league uses as a laboratory for new programming ideas, according to Riethmiller.
MegaCasting “Monday Night Football” could help ESPN down the road too.
ESPN’s $2 billion a year “Monday Night Football” contract expires after the 2021 season. MegaCasting could give Disney more ammo as it enters contract negotiations.
As a broadcast network, ABC reaches more homes and viewers than a cable network like ESPN. Bringing the bigger ABC into the mix would help ESPN reach cord-cutters and cord-shavers who have dropped their cable TV packages.
There’s also been speculation Disney wants to shift “Monday Night Football” to ABC from ESPN. Or acquire a second NFL TV package for ABC, which will feature better games and flexible scheduling.
Getting viewers comfortable watching live NFL game coverage on ABC again is a strategic way to do it. ABC televised the first “Monday Night Football” game between Joe Namath’s New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns on Sep. 21, 1970.
As MegaCasting becomes more popular, look for other media and digital companies to experiment with alternate video/audio feeds and more interactive elements, predicted Kosner.
“Amazon has pioneered two women in a booth for ‘Thursday Night Football.’ The NFL attracts a significant Hispanic audience; Twitch has featured the popular streamer Ninja around Detroit Lions games,” Kosner said. “There are many, many ways to go. I expect NFL broadcasters will move aggressively in this direction.”
After reassigning Booger McFarland and Joe Tessitore to new duties, ESPN still hasn’t announced its “Monday Night Football” broadcast crew for 2020. So the decision on whether or not to MegaCast Raiders-Saints is still a ways off.
An ESPN spokesman indicated specific broadcast plans for Raiders-Saints will be announced closer to the start of the NFL season. ESPN declined to comment on NFL rights negotiations.
The NFL’s average viewership grew 5% during the 2019 season to 16.5 million average viewers per game. The league generated 47 of the top 50 most-watched shows on TV. ESPN scored its most-watched NFL season since 2015 averaging 12.6 million viewers, up 8% over the year before.