Why "you" hate "Monday Night Football"
A rant about what's wrong with MNF led to a barrage of reader e-mails who also are sick of ESPN. But does the sports network care?
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It looks like I'm not the only one who isn't ready for some football on Monday nights.
E-mails poured in following yesterday's rant about how displeased I am with ESPN's "Monday Night Football" telecasts this year.
At last count, I had well over 100 responses from readers and almost everyone agreed with me that ESPN is doing football fans a disservice with the gratuitous promotions for ESPN's sister network ABC -- both of which are owned by Walt Disney (Charts) -- and the distracting celebrity interviews in the booth.
We also included a poll within yesterday's column. And the admittedly unscientific results do support my contention that ESPN needs to focus less on "Dancing with the Stars" highlights and more on football highlights.
Only 7 percent of the respondents said they actually like ESPN's MNF broadcasts while 79 percent said they did not. The remaining 14 percent said they do not watch MNF.
Fans aren't happy. And it might even finally be starting to hit ESPN where it matters most: ratings. MNF has had its two lowest audiences during the past two weeks.
After topping the 10 million viewer mark every week this season, ratings dipped slightly below that level for the November 6 game. And this past Monday's game, featuring the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hit a new low, with 9.6 million viewers according to preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research.
Granted, these numbers are still great for cable. In addition, this past week's game and the game from the week before, which featured the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders, involved teams from relatively small markets.
Of course, Oakland obviously isn't small if you lump it in with San Francisco ... but the Raiders are a bad team that few people in their right mind would want to watch. It's worth noting that NBC, which has also enjoyed huge ratings for its Sunday Night Football telecasts, had it lowest ratings of the season when it aired a Raiders game.
Jed Drake, a senior vice president and executive producer for ESPN, maintained that it was the poor match-ups and not dissatisfaction with the quality of the broadcasts, that have led to the lower ratings during the past few weeks.
Still, couldn't part of the ratings declines of the past two weeks be a sign that fans, like Howard Beale in "Network" are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore?
Drake disagreed with that notion.
"We think what we have going here is working pretty well and we will continue with it," he said.
But I can't help but think that viewers are losing patience even if ESPN doesn't want to admit it.
Here's a sampling of what some readers had to say about "Monday Night Football." Thanks again to all of you who took the time to send me an e-mail.
"Thank you so much for finally putting to the forefront what many REAL football fans have felt from the beginning of the season this year. MNF has turned into to a sensationalistic chat group about everything other than the game at hand and football as a whole," wrote Courtney R.
See that ESPN? You can say all you want that people are happy with the current MNF format and that the guest interviews bring in the "casual" fan. But a lot of fans are angry.
Yet, ESPN doesn't seem to care. Even though Drake conceded that negative emails to ESPN.com about MNF outweigh positive ones by about a 9 to 1 margin, ESPN is undaunted.
"We're going for an audience that is not just the hard core football fan. We have been successful. Have you looked at our ratings?" Drake said.
But who is this mystical "casual" fan anyway? Why is it more important to please them than the core group of sports fans that made you the ratings powerhouse you currently are? Doesn't the 'S' in ESPN stand for sports?
If "casual" is supposed to be a euphemism for women, ESPN might want to know that there are plenty of women who actually enjoy football and aren't nagging their husbands to change the channel on Monday nights after the obligatory celebrity interview.
In particular, a bunch of readers (male and female) pointed out that they thought it was highly inappropriate for commentator Tony Kornheiser to ask "Desperate Housewives" star James Denton about which of his female colleagues he would want to have sex with.
"Kornheiser posed the sickening question, "Which housewife would you sleep with?" As a FEMALE fan of Monday Night Football...I was quite frankly disgusted and felt like this man had just taken sexism to a new low," wrote Valarie C. (In ESPN's defense, a spokesman said Kornheiser actually asked Denton to "rate the housewives" and did not specifically refer to sex.)
Still, I couldn't agree more with Valarie. I watch a lot of ESPN (love it or hate it, it's kind of like the Microsoft Windows of sports news) and unfortunately, I do get the sense that the male on-air personalities (both former athletes as well as trained journalists) often act like teenaged boys in a locker room. ESPN really needs to stop resorting to hackneyed gender stereotypes (Man like sports. Woman likes soap operas) and join the 21st century.
And the Disney/ABC shilling has to become less intrusive. Of course, it's not going to stop. Disney paid a lot of money for the rights to MNF and should get more bang for its buck. But some readers fear that ESPN has more sinister cross-promotion plans.
"I know that professional football is no longer a sport and is more entertainment, but does Disney/ESPN have to make it worse? Next we will see 'Little Mermaid' halftime shows during MNF?" quipped Aaron C.
Aaron, don't give ESPN any ideas. Plus, ESPN probably wouldn't just reserve this just for halftime. Am I the only one having nightmares about a Sebastian the crab-Hank Williams, Jr. duet of "Under the Sea" taking place in the booth while a key third down play is taking place?
Many of you also wrote in to suggest that I start watching the game with the sound turned off and listen to the radio broadcasts instead. That is a good idea. But still, why should I have to? Is it unreasonable to expect that the TV team will actually talk about the game most of the time?
Of course, some people (although not many) did think I went overboard with my attack on ESPN.
"I think your criticism is too harsh. I feel their argument to have a guest for some 5 or 6 minutes during a 3+ hrs broadcast is pretty valid," wrote Thomas H., adding that he liked the interview the MNF crew did with former basketball player Charles Barkley. "Maybe ESPN should invite sports people rather than "normal" celebrities."
I'll admit that having more athletes and fewer Hollywood celebrities would be welcome. And fans do appear to be in luck for this coming week's game. ESPN plans to have Ronde Barber, a cornerback for Tampa Bay and the twin brother of Giants' running back Tiki, as the guest in the booth.
Ronde is a good "get" since he is a very funny guy. Plus, Tiki has announced plans to retire this season (please reconsider Tiki!) so Ronde probably will have some interesting insights about that announcement as well as the game itself.
Hopefully, ESPN will keep the focus on the game and not have Kornheiser ask Ronde who his favorite "Dancing with the Stars" contestant is, whether or not he would want to sleep with any of his team's cheerleaders or present him with a kitchen appliance for his wife. Is that too much to ask?