It’s Not Good Mourning Football Quite Yet

It was an emotional Good Friday for the cast and crew, let alone the small but passionate fan base, of GOOD MORNING, FOOTBALL.  It’s actually been airing for seven and a half years, live from New York, weekday mornings on NFL Network.  Even among sports networks, it was an afterthought in a daypart where yelling and screaming (they call it debate) has been the drug of choice.  Stephen A. Smith’s FIRST TAKE on ESPN, and even Skip Bayless’ flailing UNDISPUTED on FS-1, regularly trounced it in linear ratings.

But there were still many teary eyes and numerous stories dropped on an otherwise slow day to note the end of the current version and location of the show, as DEADLINE’s Armondo Tinoco reported yesterday:

Kyle Brandt and Jason McCourty hosted Good Morning Football one last time from the NYC studio before the show’s move to LA later this year.

Things got emotional at the end of the broadcast when Brandt went outside to the streets, where the cast had hosted many segments over the years. Brandt recalled the first episode, which aired on August 1, 2016, in which he said it was an “honor” and “privilege” to be at the GMFB table in NYC.

“I also remember at that time I had 18 months guaranteed on my contract, and my wife said, ‘Well, if the show is terrible, at least we have 18 months to figure out how to move back to LA,’” Brandt said. “And 18 months in New York City became eight years, it became over 1,800 episodes and it became home at the breakfast table.”

Brandt called NYC, the show’s fifth host, and said he was sad to be leaving and went on to appreciate all the people who make GMFB happen daily.

But at the end of that tribute, in a series of sentences later reposted to X, Brandt also revealed that his future, and indeed the show’s, are very much in flux:

I know you have questions, because I’ve seen them. Why is this happening? Who’s going to LA? Why would you take something that you got so right and change it? Some of those answers I don’t know. Some of them are not mine to give. And, candidly, I have a lot of questions myself. Here’s what I know. I, personally, will be intensly involved in Good Morning Football moving forward and I want to spend the rest of my career with the NFL. And Good Morning Football is not ending — it’s expanding.” 

Amidst that emotion, there’s more than a touch of coyness: Brandt’s a loyal soldier and a well-trained actor; heck, he was once a cast member on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Making him a de facto member of the family, as Good Morning Football has been produced by Embassy Row Television, the Sony-backed company run by the prolific Michael Davies.  And if you’ve been following the news about the industry at large, you can probably figure out what and why all this is happening.

Despite the popularity of the league and the sport, the concept of an NFL Network is becoming more and more dinosaur-like.  It has lost many of the exclusive live regular season games it carried, it is anything but a must-carry for the cable operators and, moreover, the VMVPDS, and with the growing appetite (and global audience reach potential) of streaming services like Prime Video and Peacock, it’s literally taking money out of the league’s pockets when they limit content to a declining walled garden of its own media.  Like most linear networks, NFLN has lost millions of subscribers, and its current + offering has been anything but a rousing success.  There’s only so much of an audience willing to pay for pre-season matchups, condensed games and a whole bunch of shoulder content that a lot of hardcore fans find to be homogenized and nowhere near as clickbait-inducing as. say, a Pat McAfee interview with an injured Jets quarterback.

And Davies has been spending much more time in Los Angeles of late, as the executive producer of JEOPARDY! (happy 60th birthday, BTW; it’s nice for some Sony show to acknowledge it existed before it was syndicated), where he has introduced numerous elements of sports statistics and tournament structure into a general entertainment series.   And NFLN recently opened up a state-of-the-art complex literally across the quad from the executive offices at SoFi Stadium, a couple of exits down the 405 from Sony’s headquarters.  In New York, GOOD MORNING FOOTBALL was being produced at an outside studio at cost.

So all of this should give context to what was announced earlier this month by BROADCASTING AND CABLE/NEXT TV’s Paige Albaniak:

NFL Network’s Good Morning Football is headed to syndication for the 2024-25 season, confirms Sony Pictures Television, which is handling national distribution.

The show, which has been airing on NFL Network since August 2016, will produce two additional original hours each day to air five days a week on broadcast and other platforms. Good Morning Football — or GMFB, as it will be called in syndication — will premiere ahead of NFL preseason football this summer.

Stations can take one or two hours each day and air the show whenever they want. GMFB is being sold to stations with a 7-7 barter split, meaning there will be seven minutes of national advertising and seven minutes of local advertising in each hour-long episode. Deals are currently in progress, according to Sony, and will be announced at a later date.

To hardcore sports fans and sports media observers, this all sounds a bit convoluted.  Indeed, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Jimmy Traina appeared perplexed when he parsed this news:

To say the press release sent out by the league with details of the news was bizarre would be a severe understatement.

For starters, the release pointed out that GMFB just had its most-viewed season since 2017. The release also boasted that GMFB’s ratings were up 16% in 2023 over the previous season.

Well, Jimmy, that +16% could be something in the ballpark of a 0.07 vs. an 0.06 HH rating.   And it does cost real money to produce a show with four on-camera stars, several regular contributors and a staff of creative producers.
Any incremental audience from anywhere matters in a world where the bottom line is how many eyeballs you have.  And in the current landscape of daytime television. where scant little first-run product of any kind is being offered by anyone, even the concept of a football-themed talk show adjacent to infomercials and second runs of STEVE WILKOS offers modest appeal.  And in an era where more and more multitaskers are working from home, the potential of that incremental audience being measurable by the antiquated but still preferred methodology of Nielsen is stronger than ever.
Besides, as Liam Lwelleyn of DAILY EXPRESS US reminded us, it’s not like daytime TV’s traditional target audience is completely oblivious.  According to the same crib notes where the +16% Y/Y growth was noted, among the other points were that (t)he audience among women aged 18-24 was up 24 percent, while viewership for women over the age of 35 increased by 34%.   And that’s based on Super Bowl 58, where those kind of percentage increases are off of REAL numbers.
And if there’s any team that can pull off finding a lineup for GMFB on local TV stations, it’s my former colleagues at Sony’s distribution division.  They’ve found stations willing to air reruns of Game Show Network originals in time slots adjacent to original shows from FOX and CBS’ sales teams.  With ratings on par with those first-run efforts.  They continue to find multiple buyers for 30-year-old episodes of THE NANNY.  And their current sales head was a onetime star quarterback for a suburban Los Angeles high school.  If anyone can execute a hail mary play, it would be him.
So it might be a little harder to find GMFB in the future, and its viewers might have to wade through more and broader commercials in the process.  But I for one think they will at least get the chance to try, and possibly even outlast the entity that birthed it.  After all, if anyone has demonstrated how to pull something out of jeopardy, it’s Michael Davies.
Until next time…

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