Heads up, NFL. The NBA is ordering up more alternate game telecasts similar to Omaha Productions’ popular ManningCast with Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.
The league is expected to announce an alternate telecast co-starring Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson for NBA League Pass, its subscription-based product that provides access to hundreds of live and on-demand games.
Starting Thursday, Crawford and Richardson are expected to provide their own weekly commentary for the next 10 weeks.
The 41-year old Crawford was one of the greatest players off the bench in league history. He boasts 1.5 million followers on Twitter. Richardson, also 41, co-hosts the “Knuckleheads” podcast with Darius Miles on The Players’ Tribune.
Meanwhile, the NBA is ramping up “conversations” with national TV partners ESPN and Turner Sports about creating more alternate telecasts, sources told Front Office Sports. The goal: lure viewers who might not tune in for linear basketball telecasts on ABC/ESPN and TNT.
Some formats could be similar to the Manning brothers’ “Monday Night Football” MegaCast on ESPN2 and ESPN+: an unscripted conversation between two smart, funny stars.
Others could be focused on the lucrative world of sports betting. Or take aim at elusive younger viewers (think CBS’ “NFL on Nickelodeon” production for kids). Or target more casual viewers like ABC’s coverage of the NFL Draft.
The NBA has has offered viewers more alternate telecasts than any league. Viewers want more choice beyond traditional game telecasts that have been virtually unchanged for decades, according to John Kosner, president of Kosner Media. He calls MegaCasts “the future” of sports broadcasting.
“Fans want choice — and the Internet makes that possible. The ManningCast has been a huge success because it offers authentic access to star athletes and it’s both informative and fun,” said the consultant, who previously led digital media at ESPN.
“This same approach is possible in all the major sports in any number of ways — to offer home team coverage, to get deeper into X’s and O’s, and strategies, to cater to different audiences like kids, and, perhaps, most important, to offer true interactivity, like Kyler Murray on Twitch. We are just getting started.”
But the Super Bowl-winning Manning brothers would be a tough TV act to follow. Look for the image-savvy NBA to avoid positioning any new alternate telecasts as direct competitors to ManningCast, said sources.
Still, the NBA might be uniquely positioned to create star-studded MegaCasts to rival the ManningCast.
The 75-year old league boasts global personalities such as TNT’s Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, and ESPN’s Magic Johnson.
Barkley, in fact, was Omaha’s first guest on the ManningCast premiere. Jordan was the star attraction of ESPN’s Chicago Bulls documentary “The Last Dance,” which drew big audiences during the COVID-19 sports shutdown. Johnson will pinch-hit this season for ESPN’s revamped “NBA Countdown” studio show.
Besides those big names, there’s a long list of opinionated, entertaining NBA personalities who could front MegaCasts, ranging from TNT’s Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller to ESPN’s Jalen Rose and Kendrick Perkins.
While the NFL and Mannings are rightly earning plaudits for the ManningCast, the NBA and its TV partners have been ahead of the curve on alternate telecasts:
— In May, ESPN presented a Marvel-themed telecast of an NBA game between the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans. The “Marvel’s Arena of Heroes” game featured comic book heroes like Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Captain America. It was shown on ESPN2, ESPN, and ESPN Deportes.
— This April, ESPN debuted its first-ever betting-driven telecast of an NBA game. While the traditional telecast of the Brookly Nets vs. Philadelphia 76ers aired on ESPN, an alternate “Daily Wager” version of the game appeared on ESPN2 and ESPN. This telecast featured “Daily Wager” sports betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Joe Fortenbaugh, and Tyler Fulghum calling the game from ESPN’s studio in Las Vegas.
— The NBA is the dominant sports brand on Twitter. On Wednesday, the league announced it was renewing its content deal with the social media giant. The league will provide highlights, live content and Twitter Moments. It will also offer 40 free Twitter Spaces events, where fans can listen to live audio chats, according to Variety.
Whatever form they take, these secondary feeds are meant to enhance, not replace, the traditional game broadcast — at least for now.
The ManningCast has proven to be a boon for both ESPN and the venerable MNF franchise.
During Monday night’s Kansas City Chiefs-New York Giants, game, the Mannings delivered their biggest-ever audience, averaging 1.96 million viewers. That was up 22% from Week 7.
They have generated the four most-watched alternate telecasts in ESPN history. Through Week 8, MNF is averaging 13.7 million viewers. That’s up 17% from the same period during the 2020 and 2019 seasons.
To keep things fresh, Omaha can book just about any A-Lister as a guest. Over five games, the Mannings have hosted Tom Brady, LeBron James, Brett Favre, Josh Allen, Michael Strahan, Ray Lewis, Jon Stewart and Nick Saban. Even when they’re in different cities, they have the camaraderie of brothers who grew up in the same household.
“It’s authentic. Peyton, Eli, and the guests all want to be there,” said Eric Weinberger, the former executive vice president of NFL Network who now heads his own production company. “Peyton is on the Barkley, [John] McEnroe, [John] Madden communication level. And Eli shows great timing and humor.”
The NFL is not sitting still when it comes to MegaCasts.
ESPN’s parent company Disney is exploring its own kids-focused game telecast that could feature Star Wars or Marvel characters, sources tell FOS. During its recent media negotiations, the NFL gave all its rights partners (ESPN, CBS, NBC, Fox and Amazon) the green light to produce their own alternate game telecasts, said sources.
The NFL is encouraging all of its media partners to “think of new and different ways” to engage current fans and attract new ones, said one source.
Said Weinberger: “I’m sure every network and content executive is trying to cook this up for other sports. This works so well because it feels independent and out from under anything corporate.”