Why the NFL and ESPN decided to simulcast Monday Night Football games in Week 14

Welcome to Phase 3 of the NFL’s Monday Night Football viewing experiment this season.

This includes two games on two channels at the same time, but under the umbrella of the same company. Week 14 will feature the Green Bay Packers at the New York Giants on ABC and the Tennessee Titans at the Miami Dolphins on ESPN, with both contests beginning at 8:15 PM ET.

The games were originally scheduled when the league released the 2023 roster earlier this year. But ESPN recently announced that it has added “Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli,” or ManningCast for the less formal crowd, simulcast on ESPN2.

(All three broadcasts can be seen on ESPN+. The Titans vs. Dolphins game can also be seen on ESPN Deportes.)

The NFL already had two Monday night games in Week 2 (New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers) and Week 3 (Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals). However, there was a gap of one hour between the kick-off times of the two matches each night.

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But why is the league double when it comes to MNF? According to the league and ESPN, it’s about getting real-time viewership data for the start times of Monday Night Football doubleheaders.

“We’re going to learn more about what optimizes best, and I think by next year we’re going to continue to get better at driving the biggest viewership between the two games,” ESPN president of content Burke Magnus said. At Athletic Richard Dyche in September. “We’ll learn if it’s better to start with the ABC game, the ESPN game or vice versa.” … In Week 14, we do both games at the same time. The thought is, can we combine all the audiences and do a little like we did in the old days of college football, where we created both national and regional appeal and used our networks to do that in one window? Then it’s combined into something like a super audience total.”

Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s executive vice president of media distribution, called it a unique opportunity with one broadcast partner to explore the possibilities.

“We have a unique opportunity with a single partner, with two really strong national distribution assets in ESPN and ABC, and what we want to do is continue to innovate and create a new viewing experience,” Schroeder told Deitsch in September. “So you’re going to see more reviews between games. You’ll see more coverage between the two games, you’ll see things at halftime in the first few weeks when they go to the other game. The whole desire is how do we create a new, different and compelling way for fans to watch games, and how do we continue to test and innovate as we do that? We’re really excited about these side-by-sides with Disney.”

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When viewership data is analyzed, as with all games, there will be additional factors beyond kickoff times, including how competitive each game was, the size of the market for each team playing, whether the game featured national stars or traditionally popular teams, and the estimated reach of each exit.

Then there’s the ManningCast wrinkle.

Peyton and Ellie will be watching both games at the same time and commenting on whatever happens. The show usually features guests, but that element could be eliminated this week as they juggle two games.

So why throw ManningCast into the fray? This is a chance to expand that brand. ESPN views the ManningCast as a supplemental broadcast, so any way to expose MNF to more viewers is worth exploring. The week is already unique and experimental, so it’s fitting.

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(Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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