Seth Markman was just as nervous as NFL coaches and general managers about the unknown factors involved with a virtual draft. But the ESPN executive producer said he was overwhelmed with how everything came together over the three days.
It also ended up being must-see TV as the first significant live sporting event since the coronavirus pandemic ground everything to a halt. The draft averaged a record 8.4 million viewers over all three days, according to the NFL and Nielsen. The previous high was 6.2 million last year.
“I thought a coach or general manager might put a towel on the camera or point it another direction, but there were zero issues,” Markman said. “There were a couple times that we lost a feed or two, but it quickly came back.”
After early concerns about how the NFL could conduct a virtual draft, everyone appeared to end up having fun with it. Coaches and general managers embraced their children or spouses being on camera and draft picks got to watch from home comfortably instead of waiting in a green room.
Even normally stodgy New England coach Bill Belichick got into the spirit of things by giving his dog, an Alaskan Klee Kai named Nike, some television time.
“I thought coaches and general managers were going to lock themselves in a room and it was the opposite. Every time I looked up there was more family around,” Markman said. “I think it speaks to the coaches that when this is done, they can remember it is OK not to be in the office at all times.”
Miami coach Brian Flores, who was shown celebrating picks with sons Miles and Maxwell in his office, said it was important for fans to see another side of him.
“When I think about being a coach, you want to help players become good players but good people, good husbands, good fathers, good sons; and I think we, as coaches, need to be good examples of that,” said Flores, whose young daughter, Liliana, at times sat on his lap. “I think that was evident. It was nice to see everyone’s families.”
Each day attracted record audiences. Thursday’s first round averaged 15.6 million, Friday’s second and third rounds 8.2 million and Saturday’s final four rounds 4.2 million. ESPN and NFL Network had a combined production all three days while ABC had separate telecasts Thursday and Friday before simulcasting the ESPN/NFL Network feed Saturday. ESPN Deportes also had a separate broadcast.
Here are some other takeaways:
TOO UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL?
The biggest criticism of ESPN/NFL Network’s coverage was that discussions too often were focused on the personal tragedies in each prospect’s life, which ended up dominating the telecast at times. The storytelling and off-the-field stories are a huge part of ABC’s coverage the first two nights while many expected ESPN to stick more to the X’s and O’s.
Markman said they have seen feedback on social media and that it is something they will evaluate in the future in order to strike the right balance.
“Our intention is in some cases talk about and celebrate the obstacles these kids overcame in an amazing moment. If that’s not coming across as well that is something we need to look at,” he said. “Our company puts a huge emphasis on storytelling. We don’t go as in-depth on the human stories on the ESPN coverage, but we do need to self-scout a little more. If three straight kids are picked who have overcome huge obstacles, we have to be disciplined in our approach so that it doesn’t take too much of a turn.”
When Tee Higgins was selected in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals, the ABC broadcast discussed his mother’s battle with drug addiction and how she was an inspiration to the Clemson wide receiver. Her addiction was listed on an ESPN graphic without any additional context on that broadcast. Markman said that shouldn’t have happened and that ESPN apologized to Higgins.
Higgins said on Twitter he had “no problem with them showing the world that my mom is a true fighter.”
Analyst Todd McShay was to participate on television before he announced Thursday that he wouldn’t take part because he was recovering from the new coronavirus. McShay was supposed to be part of ABC’s telecast the first two days before moving to ESPN for the final four rounds.
“He has been focusing on his recovery. His mind should be on that and not on last-minute draft preparations,” Markman said. “Our top priority is the health and safety of all of our employees.”
PRETTY SMOOTH SAILING
Despite being spread out throughout the country, there were very few instances of analysts talking over one another, which Markman credited to his directors keeping everyone informed of what was happening.
Due to the quick-moving nature of Thursday’s first round, there weren’t many interviews with players. Markman said by the time players were done celebrating with their families and got into position to be interviewed, they already had the next selection. Interviews still took place but were distributed on ESPN and NFL digital channels, as well as some airing on ABC.