Can Alex Rodriguez do for ESPN’s baseball presentations what Peyton and Eli Manning have done for its “Monday Night Football”? The Disney-backed sports-media giant is going to find out.
ESPN on Friday outlined a new strategy for its flagship “Sunday Night Baseball,” setting up Rodriguez and veteran sports commentator Michael Kay in a special flanker presentation of eight games on ESPN2 while enlisting David Cone in a new multi-year deal alongside Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez for the original “SNB.” The plan appears to emulate what ESPN has done in the fall, broadcasting its regular “Monday Night Football” on its primary cable network while setting up the Manning brothers and guests ranging from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to David Letterman in a freewheeling bull session that plays off game action.
“The innovative ‘Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod’ presentations will be informative and entertaining and play a crucial role in our overall ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ content offerings,” said Norby Williamson, executive vice president and executive editor of production, in a statement.
The new baseball set-up shows ESPN continuing to explore the ins and outs of so-called “megacasts,” or simulcasts of games tailored to particular audiences. Fans who want to watch a traditional game — and there are many — can do so by checking out the usual ESPN effort. But those interested in a more freewheeling experience that has the feel of buddies watching a game at a bar can try the ESPN2 option. In the recent past, ESPN has also explored trying to reach kids and young adults with games that utilize new kinds of graphics, Marvel characters and even kids as broadcasters. The company has also tested methods for crowds interested in sports betting. ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro has even suggested the company would like to find ways to “megacast” the Super Bowl when it gets a new crack at the Big Game in 2026.
ESPN unveils the unconventional arrangement after striking a new rights pact with Major League Baseball that calls for the company to air a narrower package of games, primarily for Sunday nights, and that lasts from 2022 until 2028.
The Manning brothers don’t draw a bigger crowd than the mainstay “MNF” broadcast, but they have generally managed to lure between 1.5 million and 2 million viewers on many of their nights, and generate buzz while doing so. That creates a broader conversation around the game than might be possible in an era when more viewers are using streaming video or watching programing on demand, at times of their own choosing. ESPN said viewership for “Monday Night Football” in the current season is up 11% from 2020 and 7% from 2019.
The eight presentations with Rodriguez and Kay will take place during some of baseball’s most intense rivalries, including the New York Yankees taking on the Boston Red Sox. ESPN said the telecasts will use elements tied to fantasy baseball and predictive analytics, and also rely on special guests. Rodriguez and Kay will appear on site for select games, while appearing live from their home studios for others. The duo will also serve as ESPN’s main broadcast team for two exclusive regular-season games.
ESPN said the trio of Buster Olney, Marly Rivera and Tim Kurkjian, will contribute regularly to overall baseball coverage on Sundays.
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