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Volume 20 No. 46
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For draft coverage, tweaks only

ESPN and NFL Network executives pledge only subtle changes to their NFL draft coverage this week, as the two networks compete head-to-head covering the event for the seventh consecutive year.

The competition between the two networks may not be as intense as the game on the field, but it exists. NFL Network staffers say they are aware of — and competitive with — ESPN’s coverage. Last year, NFL Network set a draft viewership record, averaging 566,000 viewers for its three-day coverage. ESPN averaged 2.994 million viewers for its three-day coverage, down double-digit percentages from a record-setting 2010.

“It’s like a game for us,” said Eric Weinberger, who produces coverage at NFL Network. “We want to see who can get the shot first.”

The biggest change this year is taking place behind the camera, as Seth Markman is taking over ESPN’s draft coverage, marking the first time since 1995 that Jay Rothman is not overseeing the effort. Rothman, a vice president of production, will consult.

“We feel there should be a standing ovation for Jay,” Weinberger said. “The passing of the torch is kind of unbelievable.”

Despite the change, Markman, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer who oversees all of ESPN’s NFL studio shows, says this year’s coverage, April 26-28, will look a lot like last year’s. That was when the network pared down the number of analysts and reporters who appeared on camera during the draft’s first day.

“I will be following Jay Rothman’s plan to a T,” Markman said. “I watched Fred Gaudelli and Jay produce draft coverage. To be next in line is exciting. I just want to make sure I don’t screw it up.”

Last year, ESPN featured a desk with Chris Berman, Jon Gruden and Mel Kiper, while putting reporters Adam Shefter and Chris Mortensen at a different desk. Previously, ESPN would have many more analysts on camera, making it difficult for everyone to comment on-air.

The changes from last year that viewers will see on ESPN will be subtle, Markman said. After seeing picks in last year’s draft reported on Twitter before they were announced officially, ESPN is going to put “Insider Alerts” on screen. Patterned after Twitter, the alerts will allow Shefter and Mortensen to break news on-screen without having to wait to be on-camera.

“We’re looking at different ways to get information to our viewers,” Markman said. “We have to acknowledge that there’s so much real-time information right now.”

ESPN also plans to use former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian on camera, though he will not be at the network’s main desk.

ESPN’s second-day coverage will keep the same talent as the first day. On the third day of the draft, ESPN will bring in additional talent, including Trent Dilfer, Todd McShay and Ron Jaworski.

NFL Network also is planning few changes to its coverage this year. Perhaps the biggest change will come the day before the draft, when analyst Mike Mayock hosts a mock draft at 8 p.m. ET.

“Mike is the star of our NFL draft coverage. He’s taken this to another level,” Weinberger said. “He knows every throw these guys have made.”

NFL Network will continue to expand its live coverage of teams’ “war rooms.” Last year, it had cameras with 10 teams. This year, it will have more, Weinberger said, without revealing a total number. Teams that have agreed to have cameras in their “war rooms” include the Colts, Dallas, Denver and Green Bay.

The channel also plans to put reporters at team-run parties held at their facilities.