The ManningCast has been a welcome addition to the NFL this season. Watching people watch a sporting event isn’t a new concept, but ESPN and the Manning brothers have hit on something that makes what they do entertaining for a large audience. Whether it’s the chemistry of Peyton and Eli as brothers to the variety of guests watching with them to wanting an alternative to avoid listening to the main MNF crew but still want to watch the game, people are watching and loving the broadcasts.
With all this endless praise, a creeping thought crawled into the back of my mind. How long will it take for other leagues or other networks to come up with their own “ManningCast?” It seemed inevitable. And after about a couple months, it seems like the NBA is considering an attempt with a potential series featuring Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson.
This isn’t a knock at Crawford and Richardson. For all I know, they’ll do a great job and the NBA will have a hit on their hands. The issue is that every sport is going to want something like this and not all of them will be good. Imagine an MLB “ManningCast” with Rob Manfred making sure nobody on the show can have fun? Imagine a NASCAR “ManningCast” that will likely devolve into the majority of fans being pissed off that it doesn’t include Dale Earnhardt Jr., because his NBC duties will likely prevent him from doing it for at least half the year and he’s the only person fans care about enough to tune in for?
Sports and Hollywood are one and the same. When something works and gets praise, it’s like a shark sensing blood in the water because it makes money. This is why we have (checks Google) 23 Marvel films since 2008 and 13 different Star Wars series (not even counting the movies) that either premiered or announced since Disney took over the franchise in 2015. Sports is no different. If people love something, the mindset is to give them more, because it makes money. MLB wants to expand their postseason to 14 teams. The NFL expanded to 14 playoff teams and has an 18-week regular season schedule. The NHL has had two expansion teams within the last five years. The NBA now has 20 playoff teams with play-in games for the 7-10 seeds. FIFA is expanding the World Cup field from 32 to 48 teams and wants to have the tournament every other year instead of every four years.
It all looks something like this.
We’re not all like Homer and when we take in too much of something, even if it’s something we love, we’re eventually going to throw it up. And if every league and every network is going to have a bastardized version of a “ManningCast,” not only will people grow to hate those imitations, they might grow to reject the original as well.
Five years ago, I wrote an article about how Fox Sports had a hit with Fernando Fiore on their Copa América Centenario broadcast. The article went viral and even got mentioned on Fox’s pregame show. What happened next was that because of this praise, and the praise of others on social media, it gave Fox the green light to give us more and more and more and it got so over the top that it got to the point where I eventually grew tired of their studio show. And by the end of the tournament, I was just sick of it all.
What that taught me was that praise can be a dangerous weapon. It’s nice to pay a compliment to somebody, but when someone in a position of power in sports or Hollywood knows you love something that they had a hand in creating, they will do whatever they can to give you way too much and eventually make you hate what you used to love. And then they’ll have the balls to blame you as to why the great thing they used to have eventually turned into a flop. Because they’re never going to accept blame for their own mistakes.
“Less is more” is something that no one in sports or Hollywood considers because “less is more” means leaving money on the table. And that’s what it’s all about. Because it sure isn’t about maintaining the quality of your product.
At the risk of being hyperbolic, the ManningCast is one positive thing that came out of a crappy 2021. And it’s something that just about everyone enjoys in this soul-sucking cesspool we call everyday life. That’s rare these days. So any executive who thinks they can replicate what ESPN is doing with the Manning brothers should be warned.
Even if you’re able to get two mainstream athletes who will “move the needle.” Even if those two mainstream athletes have the kind of personality to keep a watchalong entertaining for a few hours. And even if those two mainstream athletes have the kind of chemistry that two brothers for 40 years have with each other, it’s still going to be seen as an imitation of the ManningCast.
Even if it’s on a different network, in a different sport, and the Manning’s have no part in the production the show, people are going to call your show a “ManningCast.” “ManningCast” is going to be a noun to describe a show that watches people watch something. And every iteration of that is going to be compared to the one who set the bar so high. ESPN and the Mannings caught lightning in a bottle, and no matter the sport or the hosts, you’re fighting an uphill battle trying to replicate that. It’s going to be difficult for ESPN to try and replicate what they have, so please don’t do anything that ruins this.