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Volume 21 No. 2
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When NFL Network looks at draft, it sees the Oscars

NFL Network may cater to the hard-core football fan more than any other media outlet, but its NFL draft coverage this week is designed to attract more casual fans.

The TV channel that is all things football plans to produce the draft’s first day Thursday as an awards show, complete with two reporters on the red carpet from Radio City Music Hall, camera time for some of the players’ mothers and even a live shot from space where astronauts will discuss the event.

“The NFL draft as an event touches everybody,” said Eric Weinberger, NFL Network’s executive producer. “It’s not just the hard-core football fan that is paying attention.”

The network’s executives point to the event’s TV viewership as evidence that it has been reaching more casual fans than some may think. Last year, NFL Network set viewer records when it averaged 1.5 million viewers on the draft’s first day, 973,000 on Day 2 and 611,000 on Day 3.

The NFL draft audience is the channel’s biggest of the offseason, and when added to ESPN’s viewership shows that the event has the potential to draw in more casual fans.

ESPN always brings in more viewers. Last year, ESPN averaged 6.2 million viewers on the draft’s first day and 3.2 million on Day 2; ESPN2 averaged 2.5 million viewers on Day 3.

NFL Network is seeing a corresponding jump in ad sales, which are pacing ahead of last year. The channel signed Verizon (for the draft), Lexus (“Draft Kickoff” shows), GM (“Path to the Draft” shows) and Bridgestone (“Total Access” after the event) as presenting sponsors.

This year’s event will be held in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. With 30 draftees attending the event, Weinberger said he wants to document everything from their arrival to their walk to the stage once they are selected.

“It really becomes an awards show,” Weinberger said. “Much more time aesthetically is given to these kids going up on stage and saying hello to the commissioner. The sheer numbers of kids that are there — just their walk to the stage — takes up a lot of time and eats into some of the, maybe, overanalysis.”

The move to produce the NFL draft as an awards show has its roots from a couple of years ago, when the network stopped tipping picks on air. “We wanted to model it after the Academy Award, where you open the envelope and find out from that presenter who won,” Weinberger said. “For us, that is a big part of ‘eventizing’ this. We’ve tried to clear the stage and make it so that when the kid comes out to see the commissioner, it’s just the two of them.”

NFL Network will have Melissa Stark and Kevin Frazier at different spots on the red carpet outside Radio City, interviewing draftees as they arrive as part of an hourlong preshow. Because the draft is going to be held over Mother’s Day weekend, NFL Network is going to have the draftees walk the red carpet with their mothers.

The network will also have elements that cater to hard-core fans. Rich Eisen will host all three days. Deion Sanders will interview the top picks right after their selection. NFL Network’s analysts, including Mike Mayock, Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner, will discuss the draft. Coaches Jimbo Fisher of Florida State, David Shaw of Stanford and Urban Meyer of Ohio State will be on camera from Radio City.

NFL Network hopes to have fixed cameras in as many as 17 team draft rooms (last year, it was in 15), and plans to have reports from 22 team parties. “While it is maybe a six- to 10-second shot, it is a glimpse for the fan,” Weinberger said. “What they expect out of NFL Network is access.”