There were reports in September that the NFL was considering having a Wild Card Weekend game played on Monday Night. That is now in full effect, as The Walt Disney Company and the NFL have reached a five year rights agreement for ESPN to present the Monday night Wild Card game beginning with the 2021 season and continuing through the 2025 season.
The inaugural Monday night NFL Wild Card game will be played on January 17th, 2022 as the finale of wild card weekend. This will be the first weekday primetime NFL playoff game.
ESPN will have Megacast coverage of the game, offering both the traditional coverage from the Monday Night Football crew, as well as the Manningcast featuring Peyton and Eli Manning on ESPN2.
This is a smart move for both sides. ESPN gets playoff football. The NFL is replacing the Saturday afternoon Wild Card game which has notably had severely low ratings in the past. Last year’s Wild Card game between the Bills and Colts was the least watched Wild Card game since 2003.
The 2021 season’s Wild Card game will be ESPN’s eighth NFL playoff game, having begun airing an annual Wild Card game following the 2014 regular season. ESPN will also add an NFL Divisional round game to its postseason slate, while continuing to air its existing Wild Card game, beginning in 2023.
Gary Bettman Takes Shot At ESPN’s Past Relationship With NHL
”I’ve said a number of times that if ESPN is half as good at promoting us as they were at freezing us out when they didn’t have our rights, this is going to be great.”
Prior to Tuesday night’s doubleheader to kick off the NHL season on ESPN, the network had not aired an NHL hockey game since 2004. It appears that the longtime commissioner of the NHL Gary Bettman may hold some resentment on how the partnership ended.
When talking about the new deals in place with ESPN and Turner for the NHL. Bettman had some pretty interesting things to say about ESPN during an appearance at Sports Business Journal’s World Congress of Sports.
”I think in terms of promotion and platforms, being back on ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, will bring us back to more of a traditional sports fan,” said Bettman about the move. “Hockey fans got separated from ESPN because there wasn’t as much coverage.”
That was diplomacy compared to his true shot at the network.
“With my tongue in my cheek, I’ve said a number of times that if ESPN is half as good at promoting us as they were at freezing us out when they didn’t have our rights, this is going to be great.”
Many prominent names in sports media took to Twitter to respond to this tweet. While no one missed the fact that his comment was made in jest, many pointed out that he isn’t wrong about how ESPN treated the NHL for the last 17 years.
So far it seems that ESPN has been heavily promoting the comeback of the NHL to the network, adding numerous different shows to the network for exclusive NHL content as well as bringing back prominent names to NHL coverage on ESPN for content such as Chris Berman.
Monday Night Football Audience Tops 11 Million Again
Monday Night Football has been doing significantly well so far this season, showing a 20% increase in viewership season-to-date from both the 2019 and the 2020 seasons.
The ratings for the Week 5 Monday Night Football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens are out, and it was another huge success. The ESPN broadcast of the game generated an audience of 11,375,000. This is an increase from last year’s Week 5 game and the second-highest Week 5 viewership in the last six years.
Monday Night Football has been doing well so far this season, showing a 20% increase in viewership season-to-date from both the 2019 and the 2020 seasons. It has also been up looking at the year-over-year for four out of the five weeks this season.
So what is working so well that could result in the spike in viewership? Maybe it is the improvement of the broadcast crew consisting of Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick. It could also be the change of pace that the Manningcast brought to the network earlier this season. Whatever it may be, ESPN has to be pleased by the Monday Night Football ratings so far this year.
Mike Tirico, Tony Dungy Under Fire For Defending Jon Gruden
“It is hard to think NBC would feel the need to discipline Tirico or Dungy for their comments. It will be interesting to see if either address them or Gruden’s resignation during next Sunday’s show.”
On Sunday, most of America was aware of only one email containing firable statements from Jon Gruden. That is when Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy weighed in on someone they both referred to as a friend.
During that night’s edition of Football Night in America on NBC, both men advocated for forgiveness and giving Gruden a second chance.
“I’m not going to chalk everything up to racism. I think we should accept his apology and move on like he did with his team,” Tony Dungy said.
Mike Tirico pointed out that he was working alongside Jon Gruden during the time the coach wrote the racist email referencing the size of DeMaurice Smith’s lips. The two were partners on Monday Night Football for seven years. Tirico speculated that that likely means he knows Jon Gruden personally as well or better than anyone in the NFL.
“He said it right. He was ashamed by the comments in the email. The comments in the email are wrong,” Tirico said. “But, my experience kinda parallel Tim Brown, who played for Jon, a hall of fame wide receiver. He said he never experienced or saw anything that would say Jon was racist in any way. That was exactly the experience I had those seven years of traveling, three days on the road every week.”
At the time, there was some criticism for the two online. Fast forward 24 hours though, and America had seen emails from Gruden containing homophobic language, misogynist comments about female referees and statements against the NFL increasing its commitment to safety.
Jon Gruden resigned before the Monday Night Football matchup between the Colts and Ravens even kicked off. It seems that members of the sports media took to Twitter almost as quickly to condemn Dungy and Tirico for encouraging viewers to forgive Gruden.
It is hard to think NBC would feel the need to discipline Tirico or Dungy for their comments. It will be interesting to see if either address them or Gruden’s resignation during next Sunday’s show.
For the record, Tony Dungy did defend his statements in a thread on Twitter on Tuesday.
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