Michael Hoey, Paul Dunne and Peter Lawrie are the Irish players in this week’s field in Stockholm where three-time winner Lee Westwood and home favourite Henrik Stenson are the biggest names.Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy returns to action this week after his Irish Open victory at the K Club.The world number three is in the field at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio.
MORE: Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann talk “MNF” past, present, futureSome of these ideas are quick fixes. Others are blue-skying. But remember something: ABC’s original “Monday Night Football” was viewed as an experiment that would likely flop back in 1970. The idea of flex scheduling to get the best games was also a pipe dream. Until it wasn’t in 2006.Without further ado, here are five ideas to fix “Monday Night Football’s” mid-life crisis:1. Get Peyton Manning Losing Jason Witten, the much-maligned analyst who spent a year in the booth before returning to the Cowboys, could be the knee-jerk solution for ESPN. But is it the right one? Maybe not. Witten was no TV natural like CBS’ Tony Romo, but he was improving. And who else is out there who’s so much better?Here’s what we know: Before hiring Witten, ESPN auditioned everyone from Hall of Famer Brett Favre, Kurt Warner of NFL Network and Greg Olsen of the Panthers to the network’s own Louis Riddick and Matt Hasselbeck, according to Lindsay Jones of The Athletic. All told, ESPN auditioned 11 potential color commentators, including Witten.But the story doesn’t mention the biggest fish that got away from ESPN’s eager mitts: Peyton Manning. Manning was every network’s first choice, including ESPN, when he retired from the NFL in 2016. With his encyclopedic film knowledge, folksy sense of humor and everyman appeal, he seemed like a TV slam-dunk.But the NFL’s all-time passing leader turned down overtures from both ESPN and Fox Sports. Since then the five-time MVP has kept a low profile, appearing in TV commercials and cheering on little brother Eli Manning of the Giants. Word is he wants to become a team owner, ala Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter, not a broadcaster. But times change. Manning may have noticed Romo having the time of his life with Jim Nantz at CBS. He may miss football. Oh, and Manning now has a business deal with Bristol for the “Detail” show on ESPN+. Listening to him break down NFL game film on “Detail,” you get a glimpse of how good he can be as a color commentator. ESPN and Disney would likely back up the Brinks truck if the two-time Super Bowl winner is interested.Many fans would also love Manning’s return to the spotlight. The Mannings are NFL royalty. And Middle America especially loves Peyton, the former Colts/Broncos QB. It’s not hard to draw a direct line between Manning’s retirement in March 2016 and and the league’s 20% ratings swoon during the 2016-2017 seasons. He’s the only name out there with the star power to eclipse Romo at CBS, Cris Collinsworth at NBC and Troy Aikman at Fox.My colleague SN Vinnie Iyer goes further: He says ESPN should hire Peyton, Cooper and Eli Manning, whenever Eli’s ready to hang them up as an active NFL QB.MORE: Why Cosell, Meredith and Gifford were “perfect” on “Monday Night Football” 2. Simulcast ‘Monday Night Football’ on ABCIf ESPN wants to get creative, it needs to do more than wheel out the “Booger Mobile.” How about showing “Monday Night Football” on ESPN and sister Disney network ABC at the same time?Think about it. The once-mighty “Monday Night Football” drew the smallest average viewership among the league’s five main NFL TV packages in 2017, according to SportsBusiness Daily. Showing the game on both broadcast and cable would help zero out ESPN’s subscriber losses in recent years. Because of cord-cutting, ESPN’s footprint is down to about 86 million U.S. homes from a high of 100 million in 2011. Guess what? ABC’s signal reaches more than 105 million U.S. TV homes. What’s more, Disney is already planning a similar dual network strategy for the 2019 NFL Draft. The move would also boost the chances that ESPN could land a Super Bowl: the biggest missing ingredient in ESPN’s current deal.ABC, ESPN and NFL Network will cover all three days of the April 25-27 Draft in Nashville, Tenn. Bringing the popular “College GameDay” team and ABC into the fold helped ESPN fight off an invading Fox Sports after only one season. It will give fickle viewers freedom of choice.TV Review: And winner of the #2018NFLDraft is…ESPN’s @KirkHerbstreit. #NFLDraft TV rookie out-shined more experienced draft analysts. Herbie called Baker Mayfield No. 1. ESPN needed good news as Fox/NFL Network alliance challenged WWL’s draft dominance. https://t.co/hWhrJEHrDK pic.twitter.com/6syHIe396u— Michael McCarthy (@MMcCarthyREV) April 27, 2018This April, you can watch ESPN’s traditional coverage with Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. Or Kirk Herbstreit and the gang from “College GameDay” on ABC. Or NFL Network, with Rich Eisen and Mike Mayock. So what’s to stop NFL TV partners CBS, Fox and NBC from demanding that they get to simulcast their live game telecasts on their respective cable networks? Nothing. Maybe that’s where the NFL is eventually heading.The league already simulcasts most “Thursday Night Football” games on Fox and NFL Network (The league’s 24/7 NFL Network also gets a package of seven exclusive games). Why not try a similar approach on Monday night?But ESPN and Disney would have to swallow hard before crossing this Rubicon. It could hurt ESPN’s consumer appeal — and scare off subscribers.The lure of “Monday Night Football” is one reason why ESPN charges the highest cable fees in the business. If fans can watch Monday Night for free on ABC, why pay for ESPN? The Worldwide Leader in Sports has enough issues with cord-cutting without exacerbating the problem. MORE: The 10 highest-rated “MNF” games of the ESPN era3. Give ESPN flex schedulingThe gap between ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” has turned into a chasm since 2006. Why? Because NBC has flexible scheduling and ESPN doesn’t.ESPN pays $1.9 billion annually for “Monday Night Football” while NBC pays $950 million for Sunday night. If ESPN is going to pay twice what other TV partners pay, it should get some kind of flex scheduling.Don’t say it. We’ve heard the argument a million times: Flexible scheduling won’t work on Monday Nights. It would force too many changes in team flights, hotel reservations, fan travel. But where’s there’s a will, there’s a way. What if “MNF” were allowed to flex games in December when the playoffs are on the line, asked one TV insider?Say ESPN was given three options, all Monday night games in December. With one caveat: ESPN had to make its picks by October. Instead of the typical 12 days notice when games are flexed, teams and fans would be informed a full month in advance that their games were moving to Monday night.Too much? Well, what if the league gave ESPN just one flex for December? That would help ESPN and the league avoid dog games late in the season like, say, last year’s turkey bowl between the 3-11 Raiders and the 6-8 Broncos on Christmas Eve. Even if ESPN got only one flex card to play, it would be better than the current set-up.We also sounded out a league insider. Is it possible? Yes, he said. It might be doable if teams and fans got enough advance notice to adjust their plans. But it’s not likely. The idea would have to be approved by the NFL’s Competition and Broadcast Committees. The NFL would also have to do some fast talking with TV partners already resentful about the their best matchups being flexed to Sunday night. That’s why CBS and Fox are allowed to protect a certain number of Sunday afternoon games per year.So yes, it’s a longshot. But isn’t this what flex scheduling is supposed to be about? So the fans get to watch prime-time showdowns with playoff implications in December, rather than two losing teams playing out the string? 4. Create multiple announce teamsThe curse of “Monday Night Football” is that every announce team gets unfavorably compared to the late, legendary trio of Howard Cosell, Dandy Don Meredith and Frank Gifford. You either liked or hated the 2018 team. But you were stuck with them.But what if ESPN offered you a menu of new ways to watch “Monday Night Football?” Say there was one announce team for ESPN, another for ABC, a third for streaming TV.ESPN Deportes already has its own announce crew for “Monday Night Football.” This is what Disney’s planning for next year’s NFL Draft, with the dual ABC/ESPN coverage. It would be similar to ESPN “MegaCast” approach to the College Football Playoff National Championship.In 2018, ESPN offered viewers 20 different ways, across 11 different platforms, to enjoy Alabama’s 26-23 overtime win over Georgia in the title game.There was the traditional game coverage on ESPN with Herbstreit and Chris Fowler. But there was also the “Homers” telecast on ESPN2, featuring ex-Alabama star Landon Collins and former Georgia QB Aaron Murray.There was the “Coaches Film Room” on ESPNEWS with coaches Mike Bobo, Pat Fitzgerald and Kevin Sumlin. And the popular “Finebaum Film Room,” with Paul Finebaum and analysts Gene Chizik and Greg McElroy on SEC Network. It could have been a cacophonous mess. Instead, it worked wonders, as viewers jumped around networks and media platforms and sampled different announcers.And it produced great TV moments, such as loyal Georgia native Elle Duncan ripping off her mic and stalking off the set in frustration after Crimson Tide freshman Tua Tagovailoa put a stake through the Bulldogs with a 41-yard TD pass in overtime.Why not consider a similar same approach with “Monday Night Football?” I could see a “Coaches” version with ex-NFL head coaches Rex Ryan and John Fox. An “NFL Insiders” version with Adam Schefter, Josina Anderson and Dan Graziano behind the mics. And on and on.ESPN has a virtual army of NFL announcers, analysts, insiders and ex-player/coaches marking time in Bristol who’d love to take a crack at the most famous series in sports TV.Give them a chance. Who knows, ESPN might discover the next Cosell or Dandy Don.5. If all else fails, bid on ‘Sunday Night Football’If you can’t beat them, join them. Back in 2006, the NFL made “Sunday Night Football” its flagship prime time telecast. Not “Monday Night Football.” Once NBC got the better game schedule, and flex scheduling, it was game, set match.But money talks as always with the NFL. If Sunday night continues to be the only package with flex scheduling, then Disney/ESPN should consider bidding on “Sunday Night Football.” while giving up “Monday Night Football.”Could ESPN nab Sunday night? That’s questionable. You don’t mess with success. The NFL loves that “Sunday Night Football” has ranked as the No. 1 show in prime time for a record seven years, beating every scripted drama, sitcom and reality show on TV.The NFL also prefers free broadcast TV over pay cable. NBC’s in 115 million homes vs. ESPN’s 86 million. During the 2018 NFL season, Sporting News diagnosed the “mid-life crisis” facing “Monday Night Football” as the show wrapped up its 49th season. We would be remiss if we didn’t offer some offer cures to extend the life of this beloved-but-middle-age patient.No, ESPN can’t buy a red sports car for Monday night. But it can and should think outside the box before its current 10-year, $15.2 billion Monday night deal expires after the 2021 season. There’s no love lost between ESPN and NBC’s respective parent companies, Disney and Comcast. Brian Roberts of Comcast launched a $54 billion hostile takeover bid for Michael Eisner’s Disney (and ESPN) back in 2004. Could these two corporate giants square off again, this time over “Sunday Night Football?”It would be a grudge match worthy of prime time. Stay tuned.