The two-time Super Bowl champion opens up to Boardroom about life after football — on air, in the rap game, playing on the pickleball court, and more.
It’s a rainy Friday afternoon in Queens and Eli Manning is walking around with a big smile on his face, holding a stack of Subway sandwiches, Lay’s chips, and a pickleball paddle — one day after he was seen rapping with Fivio Foreign.
The grin, endorsements, paddle, and rap all represent a new chapter for the two-time Super Bowl champion, one where he can enjoy life on his own terms.
“I quickly fell in love with this sport,” said Eli, discussing how he found out about pickleball while he was on vacation.
The 41-year-old former quarterback is living his best life, a byproduct of his own forward-thinking ways to stay busy while still having fun. Pickleball represents fun, but Manningcast — ESPN Monday Night Football’s alternate telecast — represents a sign of change and innovation within the broadcasting industry.
Eli and his brother Peyton (you may know him) are pioneers in a different type of field.
“There’s a great future in alternate telecasts,” Eli Manning told Boardroom. “Obviously Peyton and I have our style, but there’s other people out there that can create their own style too. It’s good in my opinion because you get people that aren’t really into broadcasting that can still analyze the game.
“If you are the type that’s into [traditional] broadcasting, then you’ve done broadcasting your whole life, you’re gonna do what you’ve always been doing. This is supposed to be different. It’s not supposed to be the same as what the regular broadcast is, it’s supposed to be different with some analysis, some funny jokes, and some guests.”
Manningcast garnered roughly 1.6 million viewers during the 2021 NFL season. By comparison, 25 MLB games hosted on ESPN averaged less than 1.5 million per game in 2022.
The sports comparisons are apples and oranges being that the NFL is the king of viewership, but alternate broadcasts are becoming a new media trend we’re seeing, especially now with NBA star LeBron James and The Shop coming to Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football.
“It works with Pey and I because we can go at each other, we can make fun of each other and we don’t get upset. We don’t get sensitive about it. So, you gotta find that right group where there can be some back and forth and have some fun, make it entertaining — but make it different and unique.”
Manning explains how It started during the COVID season in 2020.
“I remember doing a version of it for the Buccaneers and Kansas City Super Bowl in Tampa. There weren’t many fans there, it was a season when no one was at games, and so we started doing these remote telecasts for people. Then Peyton did one for the national football game, Kirk Herbstreit called a game from home because he had Covid. So for us, it was like, ‘hey I think there’s a way of doing this.’”
And part of the show’s success clearly comes from the comfort the two Manning brothers have with one another, not to mention the setup of the streamed show — Eli tapes from his living room and Peyton does the same.
“Peyton and I didn’t necessarily want to get into broadcasting because of the travel and basically having to miss every weekend of football season, not to mention being away from our families and whatnot. Our idea was that we wanted it to be like How would we normally watch a game? And this is exactly how we’d watch it — in our living room.”
During a time when all of society was on lockdown, stuck in their houses, and relying on Zoom calls to communicate — new trends emerged and this was one of them. But how would they execute?
“Candidness plays a huge part in the success, we don’t know the normal rules of telecast because we didn’t grow up in that world. We’re very raw and it’s like we’re in your living room watching a game with you. So we talk ball, we make fun of each other, but Manningcast is about talking like you would with your friend. For us, it’s more about what’s going on in the quarterback’s head now. How should they be managing the clock? When should they take time out? When do they take a knee or spike it or what kind of plays will they be calling? It’s about giving fans an idea of what’s going on, what should be happening right now in this situation of the game.”
And why them over a normal broadcast?
“[If] you’re at the point where you probably don’t care who’s gonna win the game and maybe you wanna learn something about football, get your kids to learn something, or you like a guest that we’re having on, that’s when you come watch ours for a little bit. You might learn something, you might even get a laugh.”
After Week 11, the NFL will officially have two alternate broadcasts: The Manningcast and TNF in The Shop and it’s only inevitable other leagues will follow suit. The NBA did it last season with Jamal Crawford and Quentin Williams on NBA League Pass, and so did the MLB with ESPN’s “KayRod Cast” with Alex Rodriguez and Micheal Kay.
When asked about who his ideal duo would be for an NBA alternate, Eli knows what would win.
“You’ve seen Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal’s relationship [on TV]. That would be a strong alternate NBA telecast because they make fun of each other. They’re both funny, but they also have stories, analysis, and they have a great type of love-hate relationship, which already does so well on TV. They would be naturals,” he said.
Holding a pickleball paddle in his hand while talking, Eli is clearly still energized about the present and the future, less than two years removed from football yet still making moves on his own terms.
In the same way he and Peyton’s alternate telecast idea came to life during the pandemic, so did his love for pickleball, a niche sport that boomed in 2020.
“I started playing tennis when I retired, playing paddle… then I found pickleball. I was on vacation, saw some people playing, and gave it a shot. It was so much fun that I quickly fell in love with the game. Anyone can play it. You play with a partner, you team up, and you can easily just go to a court and play with whoever. You can do it socially and have a good time and make an outing of it.”
With the sound of the Long Island City courts echoing with each stroke of the porous neon green ball, Eli acknowledges that pickleball is indeed a “craze.” Not only is Major League Pickleball on the rise, evidenced by the recent news of VIBE PPA and MLP partnering up, not to mention the growing roster of big-time investors like Rich Kleiman and Kevin Durant’s 35V, LeBron James, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and more.
Would Eli’s love for the sport make him consider buying a team?
“I haven’t considered [investing] yet because I haven’t really looked [into] it,” he told Boardroom. “I like looking at things adjacent to sports ownership and things that are part of sports, whether it’s the apparel business, whether it’s real estate around stadiums or even consumer products. I think anything in that realm is really interesting right now.”
Before calling it a day, Eli’s focus shifted over to the improbable 6-2 Giants, where he spent his entire Hall-of-Fame career.
“They’re finding ways to win games. It doesn’t matter how. They’re playing games close in the fourth quarter and they’re closing them out. That’s what you want. You wanna stay in games and try to play your best football at the very end. And in the fourth quarter, that’s what they’re doing. So they gotta just continue doing that and they’ll be able to win some more.”
“I’ve been impressed with coach [Brian] Daboll. I’ve been impressed with the whole team honestly, how they’re playing together, not shooting themselves in the foot, not pressing at certain times. Just staying patient and waiting for the right opportunities to strike… and again, closing games out.”
It’s clear, the Giants will always be part of Eli’s life. He still loves and follows the team, but isn’t scared to acknowledge that that part of his world is behind him.
Which means life doesn’t have to be as serious for him now. It’s not necessarily about wins and losses. Because life after football has Eli out here rapping, playing pickleball, headlining a brilliant football telecast, and spending time with his family.
That’s just who Eli Manning is now. And he isn’t complaining.