Golf’s version of a Manningcast with Joe Buck starts slow, picks up speed as guests stop by

On Election Day on Nov. 8 across the country, while CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC, ABC and CBS are digesting the numbers from congressional and senate races across the country, I envision ESPN2 doing an alternative Manningcast of the election, hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning.

Former NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli probably will be more entertaining and compelling than the divisive and loud talking heads on the other networks. Peyton will tell a story about playing golf with Donald Trump, Eli will chide Peyton about not running for the House of Representatives from Colorado. In addition, Newt Gingrich will stop by, Barack Obama might do a 15-minute segment. And in the end, voters might not be more informed, but they will be able to smile a little easier.

Such is the legacy of Peyton and Eli Manning, the brothers each with two Super Bowl wins as quarterbacks, and their Manningcast. Started as a pure alternative to the traditional Monday Night Football broadcast, the Manningcast became a bit of a revolution in broadcasting. And now networks, including ESPN, are looking for the same kind of success with different sports.

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Thursday that concept came to golf with “The PGA Championship with Joe Buck and Michael Collins.” While the telecast started slowly, it picked up steam when the guests started to show up.

The key to any so-called Manningcast is that it must be an alternative to the actual game broadcast. It certainly is not for everyone. If you want the nuts and bolts of a two-deep defensive alignment, watch the main broadcast. If you want a story about interaction between Peyton Manning and a defensive back, watch the Manningcast.

Buck is a much better broadcaster than his critics give him credit for at times, but he’s not really an alternative. He’s too familiar as a play-by-play guy to be considered cutting edge. Collins, a former tour caddie and standup comedian, is familiar to ESPN viewers as a long-time golf correspondent. That might account for a slower start to Thursday’s debut of the alternative concept.

Guests, not analysis, are the key

But things picked up about 20 minutes into the show when Peyton and Eli showed up. Peyton told great stories about playing golf with Tiger Woods as Woods was being shown struggling in the first round. Fred Couples appeared later and was on fire with stories about getting through college without taking tests and offered his strong pick for the champion of this week’s major tournament. Other guests, like baseball’s Ken Griffey Jr. and ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke, didn’t work as well.

And that’s another key. Even in the football Manningcast, it is the stories of the hosts and the guests that push the idea along. If you just want analysis of the game, go to the main broadcast. Yes, the Mannings can turn on a dime and talk about the football being shown, but it is still a personality-driven concept.

The truth is, traditional broadcasts of sports on traditional platforms have been losing ratings for years. Networks feel the need to change broadcasts to seek out new fans, and generally that means younger fans. Apple TV is doing that with baseball, the NFL might be doing it with its Thursday Night Amazon Plus games, the NBA does it on Nickelodeon and maybe ESPN is doing it with golf.

Traditional golf fans will just hate what ESPN, Buck and Collins presented Thursday and will present again Friday (1 p.m. ET on ESPN, 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2). And since ESPN doesn’t own rights to many golf telecasts, this might be the last time we see the idea until the PGA next year. It’s hard to imagine ESPN would try this during the Masters next April.

But just giving it a try is okay, and the idea could actually get better with time.