For the last couple of years, ESPN has used Steve Levy with an assortment of color guys to do the “Bonus Monday Night Football Game” in Week 1 of the NFL season.  That plan would not work this year because Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick will be doing MNF every week, so the network had to find another announcing team for the Steelers/Giants game last night.  Someone at ESPN came up with the idea of assigning the “college guys” to do this game.

  • Kudos to the person who came up with that idea!

Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were excellent on the call for that game.  They have worked together on college games for more than 5 years and that familiarity showed clearly last night.  They put on a professional booth performance worthy of the professional football game down on the field.  There have been lots of very good announcing pairs for NFL games over the years; last night’s performance makes me wonder if Fowler/Herbstreit might be one of those pairings if they had been doing NFL games instead of college games for the last 5 years or so.

Starting next week, Fowler and Herbstreit will be back doing college games – – which they always have done excellently.  That will leave the Levy/Griese/Riddick team to do a solo act on Monday nights.  Based on last night, that will be a good thing because the comparison last night to Fowler/Herbstreit was not a flattering one for the “main crew”.

Levy was OK on play-by-play; he made no teeth-grinding errors.  He tried to put some energy into his call of the game, but there were times when I felt the “energy” was unwarranted.  Sometimes, a TV play-by-play guy needs to sit back and let the picture on the screen inform the viewer.  If a play results in a ball placement that is close enough to the first down marker that there is temporary uncertainty, just wait about 2 seconds and the official will let you know what the story is.  In any event, keep your voice calm as you say whatever it is you feel you need to say in that moment; it may be a “mystery” for a moment; but soon, all will be clear.

Meanwhile, the next interesting thing Brian Griese adds to a telecast on MNF will be his first one.  Notice that I did not say “important thing”; given what I heard last night, that would be a next-to-impossible bar for him to cross.  To be fair, he did not do or say anything that damaged the presentation of the game.  My problem is that he did not add much of anything; his commentary was like white noise in the background.

My biggest disappointment was Louis Riddick.  I am on record here as a big Louis Riddick fan; I have enjoyed his studio work at ESPN and I thought it was a great selection on the part of ESPN to put him on the MNF varsity team.

  • Memo to Louis Riddick:  Put a little bit of energy into your commentary – – sort of like the energy you showed in your studio show performances on ESPN.

Honestly, if there had not been live shots of the three guys mic’ed up to do the game in their fashionable suits, I might have pictured Louis Riddick doing the game in his jammies on a sleep-number bed.  C’mon man; I know you can do a lot better than that.

While on the subject of TV and Week 1 of the NFL season, the ratings for Thursday night’s opening game (Chiefs/Texans) were down from last year and down significantly.  In 2020, every change of any sort in any situation must be projected immediately such that the change is either monumentally positive or calamitously negative.  In the case of last Thursday’s game, the ratings decline was neither.

  • While ratings were indeed down 10.3%, the average number of viewers for the game was estimated at 20.3 million viewers.
  • By comparison, the ESPN special – Last Dance – which captured a lot of buzz about two months ago averaged 6.7 million viewers.
  • The TV series with the greatest number of viewers is NCIS – according to Nielsen – and it averages 15.3 million viewers.
  • The Texans/Chiefs game whose ratings “cratered” if you believe the alarmists had an audience more than 30% larger than the top rated TV show in the US and more than 300% larger than the highly touted special, Last Dance.

Some of the folks who tried to minimize the ratings decline pointed out that last Thursday night was about as crowded a night as one might ever see in US sports.  In addition to the start of the NFL regular season, sports fans could also check out MLB games, NBA playoff games, NHL Stanley Cup games, MLS games, US Open tennis matches and even WNBA games all on various TV channels.  That is a full lineup indeed; maybe it caused the noted ratings decline; maybe not.

Rather than try to explain something that is probably unexplainable without a lot of rhetorical legerdemain, let me point out some data from 2019 to put NFL programming on TV in the US into some perspective:

For those who see apocalypse in a ratings decline for a single game, please wait until the results are in for 2020 as a whole to see if there is a significant challenger to the NFL as the top “eyeball magnet” that TV execs all covet.

Finally, even though the idea of an “All-Inclusive March Madness” has been summarily dismissed, this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot bears mentioning:

“Many of us opposed to the ACC’s proposal of including 346 basketball teams in the 2021 men’s NCAA tournament are asking the same question. To wit: Will players be given juice boxes and participation trophies?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “The NFL On TV”

  1. The ratings may be down because people have learned to live without sports during the pandemic. Creatures of habit?

    1. William Beckner:

      Welcome aboard…

      I think the lack of sports on TV has indeed gotten some folks out of the habit of tuning in. If so, I suspect that “new habit” will be unlearned over time as inherend sports fans migrate back to watching on TV. We shall see…

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