Monday Night Football will soon make its grand (pseudo) permanent return to ABC — the circumstances that have prompted its return, however, are anything but glamorous. The Hollywood Reporter is one of several outlets reporting that the Disney-owned station will air every Monday Night Football game throughout the 2023 NFL season as the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes pause the production of new union-backed content throughout Hollywood.
Monday Night Football to Simulcast on ESPN, ABC During Strikes
The move was perhaps telegraphed by The Walt Disney Company’s decision to simulcast the first Monday Night Football game of the new season, a September 11 matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, on both ABC and ESPN, the station that has broadcasted MNF since 2006. Television ratings for the season premiere of Monday Night Football were higher than they have been in almost 20 years, according to THR.
ABC will air an NFL matchup each Monday night between now and December 25 (some of which will be exclusive and not simulcasted to ESPN). The decision fills a potential programming void for ABC that they and all other major broadcasters are currently facing amidst the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. The strikes, which have been occurring since May and July, respectively, prevent WGA and SAG-AFTRA members from partaking in the production of new content. Studios and broadcasters have responded by shifting the release windows of completed projects to widen their options.
Disney CEO Bob Iger has become a controversial figure throughout the strikes; he stole headlines in mid-July after he described the labor actions as “very disturbing” and the demands of the striking workers as “not realistic.” He later backtracked a bit, stating on The Walt Disney Company’s Q3 2023 earnings call that he is “personally committed” to ending the strikes. Disney has already delayed much of its own content due to the strikes, delaying a number of Marvel-branded Disney+ series (some indefinitely) earlier this month.
This isn’t the first time that Disney has looked to its relationship with the NFL for additional content amidst the strikes; on September 11, the company announced that it will be airing a “Toy Story Funday Football” version of the Week 4 contest between the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars. The program will see players turned into “Toy Story” characters in real-time and will air on both Disney+ and ESPN+.
The idea of a company using or recycling owned content on a bigger network to counteract the strikes is not unique to Disney; Paramount Global, for example, will air “Yellowstone,” a drama originally produced for Paramount Network, on CBS this fall as the production of new content is halted.
ABC’s History with Monday Night Football
ABC was the original broadcaster of Monday Night Football, essentially creating the program in 1970. Monday Night Football aired on the channel through 2005 when Disney, citing monetary losses stemming from the program, shifted it to ESPN, its sports-centric cable channel. ABC has aired select Monday Night Football games since 2016.
There’s a bit of fun Disney history tied into Monday Night Football; after shifting the program to ESPN in 2006, the company “traded” the contract of announcer Al Michaels to NBC Universal, allowing Michaels to join John Madden on NBC’s airings of Sunday Night Football. In exchange, Disney received the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s original cartoon creation.
What do you think of Disney’s decision to simulcast Monday Night Football on both ABC and ESPN? Let us know in the comments.