The NFL Draft is about a heck of a lot more than assigning new players to pro franchises. Sure, that’s of vital importance — there’s no other sport where rookies can have such a huge impact on a team’s fortunes right out of the gate. But of equal importance, many would argue, is the draft’s status as a television event. It’s the way the NFL reminds you that it still exists — and it is still by far the most powerful sports juggernaut on the continent — in the middle of its excruciatingly long off-season.
Last year, more than eight million people watched the first round of the draft. Eight million people tuned in to what was literally hours upon hours of a man standing behind a podium, reading names from cue cards. As Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch notes, more people watched the 2012 NFL Draft than watched last year’s NBA Western Conference Finals. The NFL isn’t just America’s new favorite pastime, it’s the most dominant entertainment force in the nation.
Two cable networks will broadcast the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft live and in prime-time this Thursday night: ESPN and NFL Network. Both will compete to provide fans with the best analysis of every pick and the deepest insight into exactly what’s happening inside teams’ “war rooms” as they negotiate trades up and down the draft order and select the players they hope will become their future stars.
This year, however, both networks have agreed to handicap their own reporting abilities. In recent years, nearly every draft selection has been “spoiled” either by NFL insiders on Twitter, like ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s (and current Cleveland Browns general manager) Mike Lombardi, or by live shots of prospects talking on the phone (teams always phone players in the moments before their selection is announced, just to ensure that the player is alive and willing to play for them).
No more will the draft viewing experience be spoiled. Both ESPN and NFL Network have pledged not to tip picks ahead of time, either online or by showing images that reveal which player is about to have his named called.
“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,” a senior coordinating producer for ESPN told Sports Illustrated. “I have said in the past that [ESPN insiders] 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.”
The first round of the draft begins at 8 p.m. on Thursday. Rounds two and three go Friday, starting at 6:30 p.m. The final four rounds happen on Saturday, beginning at noon.