NFL Draft Could Be Most-Watched Ever With Broadcast Nets Added
This year's NFL Draft likely will be the "most-watched in history" after the league "added multiple television players" for the event, according to Richard Deitsch of THE ATHLETIC. Fox will simulcast NFL Network's coverage of Round 1 tonight and Rounds 2-3 tomorrow, while ABC "will air ESPN’s presentation of Rounds 4-7 on Saturday." That makes the '18 draft the "first to air entirely on broadcast television." ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit is replacing Jon Gruden on the net's coverage, a move Senior Coordinating Producer for NFL & MLB Seth Markman said ESPN had been talking about "for the last couple of years" in order for a "better convergence of the college and pro audiences that we have." Markman: "I thought it might be a way to attract more of the college audience." Herbstreit will be "sticking solely to how the draft picks performed in college rather than an analysis of NFL team needs." Deitsch writes the switch to Herbstreit from Gruden is a "significant upgrade for viewers" in part because Gruden "repeatedly fell in love with certain players at the draft." Fox' Troy Aikman and Joel Klatt will be part of NFL Network's coverage to "amplify the production," with Aikman working tonight and focusing "exclusively" on the QBs selected in the opening round (THEATHLETIC.com, 4/23).
CLOSING THE GAP: SPORTING NEWS' Michael McCarthy noted NFL Network has "played second fiddle to ESPN at the draft for years," but the gap between the telecasts "is shrinking, both in viewers and acclaim." With this year's broadcast simulcasting on Fox, NFL Network "would dearly love to claim victory at last in the draft ratings battle." If you combine NFL Network's viewership with Fox's broad reach, they "might beat ESPN this year." Adding Aikman and Jay Glazer will "give NFL Network's coverage a new look." However, the duo has to "deliver on the big stage with hard-hitting analysis and news/insights" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/25). Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said the net wants to be "America's football authority." He added that simulcasting the draft and featuring Aikman and Klatt is "part of that." Shanks: "It just furthers our commitment to investing in the NFL." On Long Island, Neil Best wrote simply having the Draft on a broadcast net "figures to boost the ratings, and likely take a piece out of ESPN’s" (NEWSDAY, 4/25).
KEEP IT COLLEGE: THE ATHLETIC's Deitsch wrote one of the "interesting television twists of this year's draft is the college-centric Round 1 broadcast airing on ESPN2" tonight. The telecast "includes 'College GameDay' regulars Rece Davis, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso, and David Pollack," and the show will "originate from the NFL Draft Experience in Arlington." ESPN VP/College Sports Lee Fitting said that the two ESPN broadcasts will be "independent of each other" outside ESPN2 using Todd McShay, Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter for breaking news. This will be a "very different broadcast" and be on "at times when the ESPN broadcast is in break" (THEATHLETIC.com, 4/23). Davis said hosting a college-focused Draft program is a "long time overdue." He said, "While draft experts like Todd (McShay) and Mel (Kiper Jr.) do an unbelievable job in terms of pure, old-fashioned scouting, I don't think that anyone knows these guys better than we do. We've not only followed their careers and watched them on tape and seen them in person, but in most cases we've been around a lot of them." He added, "We're not going to spend a lot of time debating the Browns' depth chart. ... We're going to talk about Sam Darnold, what makes him a good player, what we know of him in college will translate or in some cases will not translate" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/26). Howard said that the concept of this part of the net's coverage is "to be more conversational and relaxed." He said, "Let the viewers feel like [they're] eavesdropping on a conversation" (DETROIT NEWS, 4/25).
COACH'S CORNER: In San Jose, Jon Wilner noted Stanford coach David Shaw joined NFL Network for its coverage of the Draft in '12 and since the net has "invited Shaw back for the first round of every subsequent draft." He "enjoys evaluating personnel, values the exposure" of being the "only college coach on the first-round broadcast team." He also recognizes there is an "additional, perhaps unintended benefit" of preparing for the draft broadcast in that it has "made Shaw a better coach." Shaw "records the NFL Combine coverage each year and uses it as a reference for his evaluations." Stanford ends spring practice in mid-April, and only then does Shaw begin "intensive preparation for the draft broadcast." His limited role on the NFL Network is "designed to reflect his expertise and the time he has available to prepare" (San Jose MERCURY NEWS, 4/24).
NO SPOILERS: Both ESPN and NFL Network again this year have agreed not to have employees tweet out picks ahead of their announcement. In L.A., Randy Harvey wrote this is "understandable for the NFL Network, which is owned by the league." It "wants to protect one of the league's most anticipated" shows. However people "should expect better of ESPN." The net has an "army of reporters covering the NFL," and their job is to "report news as soon as they confirm it" (L.A. TIMES, 4/24).