Ahead of the 2020 NFL season, ESPN decided to make changes to its marquee NFL analysis studio show, NFL Live. The new and rebranded iteration featured Laura Rutledge as the host alongside Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, and Mina Kimes. Various members of the network's roster make regular appearances, but the foundation of the show consists of those four individuals. ESPN made a bet that their collective football passion and knowledge would make for a a high-quality viewing experience-- an important bet because the NFL, in every way, is king.
It turned out that ESPN was right. It took a little time for everything to settle in, but NFL Live enjoyed huge year-over-year increases in viewership last season. Per ESPN PR, the 2021 season delivered the best audience numbers for the show in five years. The November and December viewership numbers were the best NFL Live had posted in three years. Each football season delivers its own set of unique storylines that drive engagement in droves, and ESPN has found a formula with this NFL Live team to capitalize on it week-in and week-out.
Laura Rutledge spoke to The Big Lead about NFL Live's success at the 2022 Sports Business Journal Awards, where she was the emcee.
"I think the biggest thing is that we truly are great friends off-camera, so nothing has to change when we get on air," Rutledge said. "It's basically what we already do when we're in our group text, when we're in person, wherever it may be. I think there's just so much respect in the group, we respect each other's opinions, we can have disagreements, but it's never about proving somebody wrong, it's more about listening to another opinion, which I think is really well received in today's world.
You don't want to see people yelling at each other all the time and I'm really proud of the chemistry that we have struck and just letting that breathe on air and having so much fun. It is truly the absolute joy of my life to get their opinions and to sit with them every single day and hear what they have to say."
The 2022 NFL season is a significant year for everybody at the four-letter network. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman's presence will elevate the weekly Monday Night Football production, and the trickle-down effect will make itself known in due course. It only helps that ESPN has a loaded slate for MNF this year and all the significant transactions that have occurred over the last few months allow for the storylines to write themselves before the season even begins. Rutledge recognizes the opportunity all this provides for herself and her co-workers, and can't wait to get started.
"We can't wait. I mean NFL's king everywhere, but to have it be such a priority at the place where we work and to be the daily NFL show, it's going to be so exciting. We've seen this offseason, we saw the previous offseason, how the NFL news cycle never stops. It's funny because the news cycle becomes such a big piece of the story, but we're like, we can't wait for the games," she said.
"So I absolutely am so excited to see what this season brings. We've got so many great new storylines with new quarterbacks in different places, new players on different teams and the AFC West in general, and can't wait to see what happens there. So we are so pumped just for another year together and we know that we've struck something really special. I think savoring every single minute of it is going to be our goal."