I know we all have our opinions about the place to watch the NFL Draft. ESPN or NFL Network? Some of us are tired of listening to Berman, and some of us just like our traditions and aren’t willing to switch from ESPN. Either way, that isn’t what this post is about, because there is at least one thing both networks do that bothers me, and that is tipping picks.
The draft has become a spectacle that few understand. How have we managed to take an event as boring as a draft and glorify it to a three day, two night event that inspires countless mock drafts, opinions, trades, etc. leading up to it? Major League Baseball certainly doesn’t do that, and I don’t think they could. The closest competitor would be the NBA, but let’s be honest, it’s still a one night event with very little fanfare. The NBA lottery gets me more excited than the actual draft does.
To keep up with the spectacle, the networks are now having to get fancy. And this is where my problems begin. How many times during the draft (especially the first round) did they announce the pick before Roger Goodell could get to the podium to make the official announcement? Both networks would instantly cut to the green room as soon as the pick received the phone call from their new boss, and thus, all the suspense was gone.
I remember a few years back when maybe six guys would be invited to New York for the draft. That was it. The guys were usually guaranteed to be top 10 selections and if one slid to the end of the first round (Aaron Rodgers), it would be a big deal. I’m not sure the exact number of guys who were invited this year, but the final guy to be out of the green room was Randall Cobb, who was the final selection in the ….SECOND ROUND. He really needed to be there? To do what? Sit around and look nervous for two days?
Not only the guys in the green room, now pretty much every possible first round and even second round selection has to have a webcam in their house so we can spy on their draft parties. More suspense is taken away when the networks cut to those parties to see everyone celebrating when the phone call comes in.
It just takes the fun out of it as a fan. I like being on the edge of my seat until the announcement is finally made, but of course since this is now a network event, each network wants to make sure they are the first to report who the pick is. The guys over at Yahoo Sports talked to the producers of each network about this:
Jay Rothman, ESPN lead producer on NFL draft:
You are there to document this live news event, as it is unfolding live before your eyes. But I question it too. Is it the right thing we are doing? From an execution standpoint, if you look at the amount of time that each team actually took once they were on the clock, I promise you the first 10 picks were each less than five minutes.
One school of thought is it’s reality TV, you are in the moment, and it’s the nature of the immediacy, so yes, you are getting tipped and the announcement of the pick is just a formality and a kiss-off. That’s one scenario, and that allows you to get ahead of the team on the clock. The other scenario would be no cameras allowed in the green room and players are not allowed to have a phone. When the pick is made, we all get the pick and then you are analyzing the player. We then use that 10-minute clock for analysis of the player.
Eric Weinberger, NFL Network executive producer:
It’s a news story we are following. We want to show the moment these kids’ lives are changed and that moment is when the team calls them to let them know where they have been selected. Sometimes it takes six to seven minutes for that kid to even get off the phone and greet the commissioner. Maybe we have to change that part of the format, if we want the first time they hear about it, or if they react and cry like Mark Ingram. But that is the system that is in place. The system is the team calls the players first, and at that point, it’s there and it is a news story like any other news story. It’s the moment you win the award. But we talk about it a lot. I get the same emails you get and see all the tweets. It does seem at times the commissioner’s announcement is secondary.”
That’s all fine and well that you want to show the moment these kids lives are changed, but find a better way to do it. Could you put on a tape delay and show the reaction right after the commish makes the announcement? God knows it takes them long enough to get on the stage to begin with. Maybe work out some deal with teams that they don’t make the call until after the announcement? I don’t think the five minute wait would make a difference for the kid getting drafted. The excuse “that’s the way it’s done” is a cop out though, and I don’t want to hear it. The networks are so scared of changing the format for the fear ratings may drop a tenth of a point. To be honest, I’ve heard people complaining that ESPN sucks and that NFL network is the way to go. That is a load of BS. Both networks had the exact same coverage, it’s just the people on it that you may or may not like. In terms of actual coverage, they were the same.
My suggestion is really quite simple. If you are going to tip the first few picks, fine. I understand the need to bring some guys in to be on stage and that is completely okay. No need to have as many people as you did this year, and certainly no need to bring in a fringe second rounder in Randall Cobb. No more live webcam draft party shots. I don’t need or want to see nervous families who look absolutely heartbroken when their boy isn’t being picked early enough. I don’t have a problem with the reporters at the team’s complexes reporting on what a team wants to do, but none of the “if Andy Dalton is there, the Bengals will pick him”. That ruined that pick, four selections before the Bengals were even on the clock. Keep the coverage simple and focus on the picks that have already happened.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the NFL Draft and I love the aura that surrounds it. Instead of all the flashy coverage, let’s instead focus on the picks. That is, after all, what this event should be all about.