MNF’s passing means more than you think

I was a young man working in television when Monday Night Football first came on the scene, and people under 40 can’t really imagine the phenomenon that it was. There were NFL games on Sunday afternoons, but that was it. There was no network “command center” where a group of announcers kept you up to date with what was going on around the league. The only way to keep up with what was happening in other cities was when the telecast you were watching cut to the scoreboard, and the announcers ran down the scores. Summaries were left for the late news or the Monday paper.

MNF brought the game into prime time blockbuster status and became the model for marketing all sports in the future. The halftime highlight segment broke new ground, because it gave us images from the previous day. There was no ESPN at the time to do so. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that ESPN — and many other things we take for granted in the professional sports world — would not be around today had it not been for the success of Monday Night Football.

For those who follow media, the passing of MNF is extremely significant, for it shows the difficulty of recreating what we lovingly call a “blockbuster” week-in-and-week-out. With blockbusters, as Umair Haque points out, attention is emphasized over production, and this is changing in a world that increasingly belongs to what he calls “the snowball effect.” What was once the blockbuster is now just another football game under the lights, and only the Superbowl now occasionally lives up to the hype. The importance of the Superbowl, however, is created by championship play in the league. That wasn’t the case with Monday Night Football. It was an artificially-created, weekly championship game.

Mass marketing rides the back of the blockbuster, and this is true whether it’s toothpaste or a football game. Once the public gives that stamp to any event — and this includes news — smart folks with dollar signs in their eyes rush in to duplicate it over and over again. People see right through that and are sick of it, which is why Hollywood, the recording industry and all of television are in such trouble. The digital world doesn’t much care for the artificial sense of importance that comes with the blockbuster mentality, and this is highly perplexing to those who make their living “driving” sales of anything.

So, like tube television sets, Monday Night Football — the original, artificial sports blockbuster — has faded into the mist of history, taking with it another slice of the heart and soul of mass marketing. I don’t think there’ll ever be anything like it down-the-road.

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