NFL Network Fumbles Breaking Peyton Manning News

NFL Network made up for lost time in reporting the breaking news of the Colts severing ties with Peyton Manning, They were beaten to the punch by about twenty minutes by ESPN - on the air, and on social networking.

It’s rare when a sports channel not named ESPN befuddles me.

It’s even rarer when that sports channel is NFL Network.

By now, you’ve probably heard that the Indianapolis Colts, in a long-expected move, will part ways with Peyton Manning, the franchise’s star quarterback since 1998, who missed all of the 2011 season due to neck issues.

The fact that this news, which is officially expected to be announced at a press conference on Wednesday, was bound to happen for quite some time – no later than Thursday – is no excuse for the cable network operated by the National Football League, NFL Network, to sleep on it, or at least appear to be.

ESPN broke the news of Manning’s officially-soon-to-be-official departure from the Colts at the top of the 6 PM (ET) hour on “SportsCenter.” In fact, Chris Mortensen tweeted that he would have “Manning news” at 6 PM sharp.

Colleague Adam Schefter, who has twice as many Twitter followers as Mortensen, tweeted the scoop from “Mort” at six minutes past the hour and reminded them to watch the “news on ESPN’ regarding this story.

Meanwhile, at 6:06 PM ET, NFL Network was airing regular programming, “Path To The Draft.” NFLN’s own Jason LaCanfora would not send a tweet mentioning Manning until roughly ten minutes later. And NFL Network would not break into regular programming until 6:20 PM – and not before they were finished airing a regularly scheduled commercial break (thank goodness there’s no lockout!).

Even once they hit the air with the news, there was a sense of uneasiness – Andrew Siciliano, who certainly holds his own, was joined to discuss this news by the universally hated Matt Millen. True, Siciliano referred to Millen’s “years of experience in the front office” – but I don’t need to remind you how much of a failure the Lions were under his watch. (And don’t forget, NFLN booted him from their own “Thursday Night Football” franchise after a couple of seasons.)

For what it’s worth, NFL Network did their usual splendid, comprehensive job breaking down Manning’s future (in spite of Millen). And to their credit, they’ve blown out at least two hours of a planned “Sound FX” marathon on Tuesday night for continuing coverage. But viewers were likely left wondering who was minding the story the first twenty minutes of the 6 PM hour – especially if they had found out about the Manning departure via Twitter and were already watching NFLN waiting for the news to break into “Path To The Draft.” Hell, even the popular Twitter personality known as “Peyton’s Head” acknowledged his likeness splitting with Indianapolis before NFL Network even did on Twitter.

If NFLN was spending the 15-20 minutes before going live with the Manning news confirming it first, then, to paraphrase current NFLN employee Dennis Green, I’ll let ’em off the hook.

You may say that ESPN has an advantage when it comes to breaking stories. In this case, ESPN may have doubly had an advantage in that their daily news program, “SportsCenter,” was already on the air at the time the news was broken about the Colts cutting Peyton Manning. NFLN’s daily news show, “Total Access,” doesn’t go on the air until 7 PM ET.

And of course, there is the fact that ESPN is cleared in more households than NFL Network – also in the Worldwide Leader’s favor. I honestly hope that cable systems like Time Warner and Cablevision eventually reconsider and make a deal with NFL Network, so that there’s a level playing field between NFLN and ESPN.

And next time a major story involving a major NFL player breaks, maybe NFL Network won’t be too busy running an old episode of “Top 10.”

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