SBD/April 26, 2012/Media

Networks Hope To Bring Drama Back To NFL Draft By Avoiding On-Camera Phone Calls

Many argue showing players on phone before pick was announced was a buzz-killer
Suspense is "making a comeback at the NFL Draft," as execs at both ESPN and NFL Network pledged that broadcast cameras will "no longer show first-round draftees on the phone with their teams before being selected," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer for the NFL Seth Markman said, "The league, the NFL Network and ESPN have recognized that it has probably tilted too far in taking some of the suspense out of the draft. Part of the problem in this world of instant news and social media is that you can't hold the news. But I think we do need to find a way ... to bring back some of the suspense of the commissioner making the announcement." NFL Network Exec Producer Eric Weinberger added, "We realized that we have been doing the viewer a disservice in that we have lost some of the excitement of when the commissioner walks up to the podium and announces the pick for the first time." Markman noted, "Are we supposed to just hold that information and wait? I don't think so, but I do recognize that for the viewer sitting at home, I think there is some animosity toward us about tipping the pick, especially on camera. But if our information guys have information, I don't think we will hold back" (SI.com, 4/23). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “When you’re showing on television the phone call and the teams getting into the last minute of their pick, it’s pretty clear that they’ve chosen that individual. As he’s going through his congratulations with his family and friends. ... Hopefully we’ll be able to keep that suspense right through to the final moment” ("The Rich Eisen Podcast," NFL.com, 4/25). ESPN's Chris Berman, who hosts the net's Draft coverage, said the decision is "long overdue." Berman: "I talked to producers for years about how they were ruining the draft. I’m not saying we should suppress the news. I don’t mean fake things, but there should be some suspense" (USA TODAY, 4/25). On Long Island, Neil Best wrote the old system of showing players on the phone before the pick was announced "was a buzz-killer." Now at least viewers have a "fair chance to be surprised, assuming the teams stick with the program and don't leak the news on Twitter -- another recent development that has annoyed fans" (NEWSDAY, 4/24).

CALLING THE SHOTS: Berman has hosted ESPN's draft coverage since '89 despite calls for a change, but Markman said, "It's not even a debate for us." Markman: "It's not even a discussion in this building. He is the face and voice of the NFL on ESPN. He is as knowledgeable as anyone I have been around and as passionate as anyone I have been around about football and the draft. ... I would not want anyone else to host this thing." This year marks the eighth time Eisen has hosted the Draft on NFL Network, and Weinberger responded, "He is just so well-versed with the players but also with the direction [NFL Network analyst Mike] Mayock is going. His stamina at this event is unmatched. He does all three days and he always has. ... Not only that, he is not afraid to share his point of view and that comes across with the viewer. Because of his knowledge base and confidence in this topic, he can also become a voice" (SI.com, 4/23). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes ESPN analyst and former Colts GM & VP/Football Operations Bill Polian is a "rarity among TV sports analysts, a field crowded with ex-players, coaches and managers but few former general managers or team presidents." Markman said, "We were missing that perspective. But we didn’t want to hire just anybody." Sandomir notes Polian’s role at the draft is to "act as if he were still" a GM. NFL Network has also "plucked analysts from the front office," like former Redskins and Texans GM Charley Casserly and longtime NFL exec Mike Lombardi (N.Y. TIMES, 4/26).

INFORMATION OVERLOAD? In California, Scott Bair wrote it would be easy to call the "information tsunami" that precedes the NFL Draft "excessive, but it wouldn’t be provided if it weren’t popular and profitable." ESPN posted a 3.8 rating for the '11 NFL Draft’s first round, a "heavy number, especially considering the draft is simulcast on NFL Network." All this for a "non-event with no score." It is an event that "captivates a nation, where the popularity of college football and the NFL merge." NFLdraftscout.com senior analyst Rob Rang said, "Certainly the popularity of pro and college football is the biggest reason why the NFL draft has taken on a life of its own. However, I believe our country’s fascination with reality television is another reason for the draft’s popularity having grown to this level" (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 4/23). In Akron, George Thomas wrote there is a reason the draft has "blossomed into the behemoth that stretches across three days -- football is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, king of sports leagues." Thomas: "Draft coverage? It remains compelling despite two networks devoting resources to it simultaneously with little effect on the other." In '11, the NFL Network had its "best draft audience, averaging" 566,000 over three days, which "included its best first round, averaging more" than one million viewers (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 4/25). SI's Deitsch said moving the draft to primetime "shows how confident the folks at NFL are" in attracting eyeballs (MARKETWATCH.com, 4/25).
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