For the first half of its season, the NBA is locked in a ratings war with the NFL. The NBA already conceded one battle, opting to postpone Thursday night double-headers on TNT until January in order to not go up against Thursday Night Football. But now, the National Basketball Association is taking a page out of their competitor’s playbook in a move inspired by ESPN’s increasingly popular “Manning Cast.”
ESPN and the NFL have struck gold with the Manning Casts
If you tune into ESPN for Monday Night Football, you’ll get a fairly standard NFL broadcast with announcers Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick. But on ESPN2, you’ll get two legendary quarterback brothers swapping stories and bringing on some of the biggest A-list guests around.
Peyton and Eli Manning have entertained many football fans with their Monday night Manning Casts. The Super Bowl champs watch and break down the game while interviewing big-time guests like Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Jon Stewart. The two brothers keep it fun, offering viewers a light-hearted alternative to a more regimented game broadcast.
So far, the Manning Cast audience has seen a steady rise. After debuting at an average of 800K viewers in Week 1, the broadcast shot up to 1.9 million viewers in each of the next two weeks. Following a three-week break, Peyton and Eli returned to the tune of 1.6 million viewers. Then, in its most recent broadcast, an average of 1.96 million viewers watched the former QBs analyze the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs.
Thanks to the three most-watched alternate telecasts in ESPN history, Monday Night Football is averaging 13.7 million viewers between both feeds. That’s a 17% increase over where they were at the same point in the season in 2019 and 2020.
The NBA is set to introduce a simulcast of its own
With a full season still ahead, the NBA is tired of sitting on the sidelines. The league announced plans to have former players Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson host a telecast on the subscription-based NBA League Pass. Crawford and Q-Rich will offer up commentary on a weekly game for the next 10 weeks, beginning with Thursday’s battle between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers.
Crawford is one of the best bench players in NBA history. The 20-year veteran has three Sixth Man of the Year Awards and boasts over 1.5 million followers on Twitter. Meanwhile, Richardson is a 13-year veteran with five seasons averaging 10 or more points. However, he has found post-career success with the Knuckleheads podcast.
The league isn’t just settling on that, however. Front Office Sports reported ongoing conversations between the NBA and its broadcast partners at ESPN and Turner Sports. One option could be a simulcast of a game with two former stars, similar to the Manning Cast. But it could also mean a more kid-friendly telecast. Or one focused on betting or analytics. The goal is to provide anything that gives basketball fans a second choice besides the traditional broadcasts.
Sports simulcasts have shot up in popularity
The Manning Cast might be the most recent example, as well as the most successful one. But we have seen leagues and their partners workshop alternative broadcasts in recent years.
Staying with the NFL, Nickelodeon aired a kid-friendly broadcast of last season’s Bears-Saints Wild Card game. The numbers were so positive, the NFL is doing the same thing in 2022. Elsewhere, ESPN offered 14 presentations of the College Football Playoff National Championship earlier this year. The Worldwide Leader has also provided “Statcast” telecasts during MLB games or the Home Run Derby, as well as a kid broadcast of the Little League Classic.
While these leagues and their partners are continuing to experiment, the NBA has been slow to catch on. But offering multiple places to catch a game, especially in a cord-cutting age, is a necessity for basketball’s premier league to continue its growth.
Plus, who wouldn’t love to see Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley doing a kid-friendly version of a Lakers-Warriors game?