Say goodbye to the Week 1 Monday Night Football doubleheader?
In his “Football Morning in America” column this week, NBC Sports’ Peter King reports that changes in the 2021 NFL regular-season schedule will take a second MNF game away from ESPN. But ESPN will get something better in return: A Saturday doubleheader for the league’s new Week 18, which will be played on Jan. 8, 2022.
ESPN has aired two MNF games in Week 1 since 2006, but the broadcast for the second half of the doubleheader hasn’t often been well-regarded. Chris Berman calling play-by-play wasn’t typically popular with viewers, nor were gimmicks like Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic taking the “Mike & Mike” show into the MNF broadcast booth or Rex Ryan paired with Beth Mowins.
With much of the college football season delayed due to COVID-19 concerns, ESPN/ABC’s top broadcast crew of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were available to call two MNF telecasts last year (one of which was a postponed game). But that was largely viewed as a temporary development, despite Herbstreit’s enthusiasm for possibly calling both college and NFL broadcasts.
The audience for the late game of last season’s MNF doubleheader, a matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos, was down 38 percent with seven million viewers. While that doesn’t necessarily indicate a decreasing interest in the game (which still drew the highest viewership on cable for the night), ESPN will very likely get better matchups with playoff implications to attract the largest audience for its Week 18 doubleheader.
Under the NFL’s new 17-game schedule, Week 18 is expected to break down like this:
- Two Saturday games
- 13 Sunday afternoon games
- One Sunday night game, with the best matchup flexed in
With only one Week 1 broadcast this season, ESPN is expected to air Monday Night Football at 8:15 p.m. ET, the same time it televises the game every other week during the regular season. (With a doubleheader, the first game was scheduled for 7 p.m. with the nightcap following at 10:15 p.m.)