Sports | March 7, 2018 10:36 am

New ESPN Boss Faces Daunting Task of Fixing ‘Monday Night Football’

Stopping the broadcast's declining ratings needs to be Jimmy Pitaro's first order of business.

Jimmy Pitaro attends the 2017 Saks Fifth Avenue & Disney 'Once Upon a Holiday' Windows Unveiling at Saks Fifth Avenue on November 20, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Steve Zak Photography/FilmMagic)
Jimmy Pitaro attends the 2017 Saks Fifth Avenue & Disney 'Once Upon a Holiday' Windows Unveiling at Saks Fifth Avenue on November 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Zak Photography/FilmMagic)

Among the host of problems Jimmy Pitaro inherited when he was appointed president of ESPN earlier this week, perhaps none looms larger than what to do with “Monday Night Football.”

After a season of declining ratings, the former flagship program took another massive hit this offseason when Jon Gruden announced he was leaving his spot in the “MNF” booth for a place on the sidelines coaching the Oakland Raiders.

However, despite the ratings dip, the broadcast still averaged about 10.757 million viewers each week, making it one of most popular programs on TV and one that the Walt Disney-owned channel can ill afford to lose – along with the ad revenue it generates – to a competitor like Comcast, CBS, Facebook, Apple or Google.

With an annual price tag of nearly $2 billion, the game is the costliest NFL program. ESPN’s contract for the rights to broadcast the classic contest isn’t set to expire until the end of the 2021 season but, considering Fox just paid $3.3 billion for five years of broadcasting “Thursday Night Football,” keeping “MNF” won’t be cheap.

“Without the power/leverage of ‘Monday Night Football,’ we believe Disney would be forced to accept dramatically lower rates in future rights deals, less minimum penetration protection and possibly even face the real risk of being dropped (which has been largely unthinkable historically due to the importance of ‘MNF’),” BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield wrote in a recent blog post, according to Forbes.

Point being, Pitaro and ESPN can’t afford another three years of the ratings for “MNF” underperforming like Cleveland Browns players if they want to justify retaining the rights to broadcast the game to shareholders. It’s a situation Pitaro needs to remedy – fast.