NFL Draft: On ESPN, NFL Network, Twitter and the Art of Tipping Picks
Picture this: It's the start of the NFL draft on Thursday night, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is sauntering up to the podium to announce the first pick when his phone buzzes.
Jay Glazer of Fox just tweeted who the Kansas City Chiefs will take.
Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted the pick too. Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports and Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC and Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com just tweeted their own confirmations of the pick, all in the time it took for the commissioner to get a card from a runner and figure out how to pronounce "Joeckel."
Is it Joeckel like "Jock-ell" or Joeckel like "Joke-ell"?
Sixteen people just tweeted a photo of the commissioner with a card in his hand, and Reddit already posted an enhanced image of the card that clearly shows the name of the drafted player (or someone else—it won't really matter in a few seconds if the name is wrong anyway).
"With the first pick of the 2013 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs select…BUZZ!!!!!"
There is a growing question among draftniks and football media that may impact how the draft is covered this year and in the future. Is social media, namely Twitter, ruining the NFL draft or making it better?
The answer to that question depends on whom you ask.
Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated reported that staffers at NFL Network and ESPN—the two networks who air the NFL draft on live TV—have been asked to curtail their tweeting during the telecast, as to not tip off their Twitter followers with picks before the commissioner has a chance to announce them.
"Our fans have told us they would rather hear from the Commissioner and I think it is a better TV show when we speculate and let the Commissioner do it," said ESPN NFL senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, who oversees draft coverage for the network. "I have said in the past that [ESPN reporters] Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen can basically announce all the picks before they are made if they really wanted to. It goes against a lot of our instincts as journalists and it's totally different than anything I deal with, but we feel like it is a win for the fans and our viewers."
Is it, though?
The idea that ESPN and NFL Network serve their fans by not tipping picks on Twitter is laughable. The networks serve themselves.
If you watch the NFL draft on ESPN and are active on Twitter, it stands to reason you follow some of their NFL information gurus. The same can be said for the NFL Network, so it should go without saying that both networks have it in their best interest to keep the show on TV and off Twitter, not the best interest of the viewers.
If the networks' news reporters tell their audience which player is about to get picked on Twitter, it ruins the TV experience for the networks more than the viewers.
The NFL draft isn't an episode of Game of Thrones. No, the Chiefs aren't picking a dragon to start the first round.
We don't need the suspense of seeing the commissioner make the pick to enhance our experience of watching the drama unfold. We don't need scripted drama to make the night more interesting. We just want the information as fast as possible.
The NFL draft as a TV show is just a money-making means to an end. If Kansas City would announce the pick today, NFL fans would be happy to know the result.
NFL Network and ESPN would do anything to get all NFL reporters, agents and players to cease tipping picks before the commissioner announces them.
Instead, the networks hurt their own credibility by telling their reporters not to tip picks on Twitter, thereby letting others—like Glazer or King or La Canfora—look like the reporters that are in the know.
The Lunatic Twinge
This isn't about upsetting a few followers on Twitter. The NFL draft's first night had 25.3 million viewers on ESPN and NFL Network last season, making the number of people on Twitter upset at picks being reported before they were announced on TV a pittance of the actual audience. This is about doing everything to grow that TV number, and making information more exclusive to TV certainly can't hurt.
Now, Markman told Deitsch the edict is "a win" for the fans, but that small group of fans who might care about picks being tipped on Twitter—Schefter has 2.2 million followers on Twitter, and SportsCenter has more than five million—seem to have far too much power for their numbers.
Acknowledging those people by altering coverage caters to the extreme, which is why that seems like a rather thin smokescreen for the real concern: ratings.
Arguing for Twitter silence during the NFL draft—a day, by sheer structure, with more breaking sports news than perhaps any other day on the calendar—is a complaint without merit. There is no way the NFL or ESPN would change policy for something so trite unless it helped them as well.
To those who did complain: If you don't like reporters tipping picks before the commissioner makes the announcement, don't follow Twitter during the draft.
The easy answer is to just take a few hours away from Twitter during the draft, but if you can't do that, just close your "All Friends" stream and only read your mentions and direct messages while tweeting to your heart's content.
The Real Pick-Tipping Culprits
Now, the real issue with tipping picks—and ESPN and the NFL Network's bigger problem with "reporting" the news before the commissioner does—has less to do with Twitter than it does TV.
The leagues have already pulled cameras out of the green rooms to stop showing players on cell phones just before their names are called. Whoever thought that was good TV helped ruin the draft show for a long, long time.
That said, a green room camera was never the worst pick-tipping offender on TV.
Chris Berman has tipped picks for decades. And he's not the only one, as ESPN and the NFL Network routinely tell viewers which player is about to get drafted seconds before it's announced.
That, unlike a tweet, is unavoidable and infuriating.
If we watch the NFL draft on TV, we watch for the ceremony as much as the information. If the league goes through the rigmarole of having the commissioner make the picks on camera, the least the TV networks paying for the rights to broadcast the coverage can do is let the man make the announcements first.
The worst thing with Berman over the years is that we know he's being fed the information from a producer, who either got it from a reporter or got it from the league as the card was being walked up. For a TV show to be run smoothly, graphics packages and highlight reels need to be called up in an instant, so any advantage the TV production can get will make for a better viewing experience.
The problem with that: Someone keeps telling the anchor. For years, Berman has thrown the coverage back up to the commissioner for a pick with just enough of a clue as to who will be announced to look like a genius to the average fan.
ESPN will spend four minutes talking about defensive tackles, but just before a pick is made, Berman will throw in an off-hand comment like, "Could they go in another direction, and might we see the first defensive back off the board here?"
Hey, look, Dee Milliner just got picked. Who saw that coming? Oh, Berman.
Come to think of it, maybe Berman isn't getting tipped by ESPN producers in his ear. Maybe he's just on Twitter. In that case, ban all draft-related tweets starting right now!
Fans of the draft everywhere will be better off for it.
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