ESPN Faces ‘Unknown Accordion of Time’ in NFL Draft Coverage

For an event like the NFL Draft, it is all about the preparation — a fact not lost on Jay Rothman, senior coordinating producer at ESPN event production and now in his 16th year producing the Draft.

“You can’t believe the mass quantities of content that have been cut for this show,” Rothman says. “We literally cut over 1,000 different elements for the 20-hour draft show. It goes on and on and on. We think of anything and everything so we have our butts covered.  And it’s not just simply sitting there and playing it back. There’s a ton of editing that goes on throughout the draft, based on what transpires.”

The Draft will once again be held at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, but this year’s event has been changed from the traditional Saturday-Sunday format to a three-day event, April 22-24. The first round will be in primetime on Thursday, with Rounds 2-3 on Friday night and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

The Radio City Setup
ESPN is using its NEP SuperShooter 25 Monday Night Football truck fleet and three primary sets. The main Radio City setup will feature Chris Berman, Mel Kiper, Jon Gruden, Tom Jackson, and Steve Young on the main floor. Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter will man a second set on the balcony while Suzy Kolber conducts interviews in and around the Green Room. Including an additional red-carpet setup outside Radio City, the Draft shoot will roll out a total of 25 cameras.

“The true change this year is in the reduction of on-air talent. The draft moves so quickly, it’s very difficult to keep up with it,” says Rothman. “With a max time of 10 minutes between picks, which can be reduced to who knows what, it creates this unknown accordion of time. I’ve found that the more on-air folks that we have, the more we don’t get to people because it just moves too quickly.”

Setup at Radio City began early Monday, April 19, and Rothman’s goal is to be show-ready by the end of the day Tuesday. In addition to the on-site coverage, a SportsCenter special from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT, will lead into the Draft coverage each day, along with regular check-ins with the Mike Tirico-led Bristol crew throughout the telecast.

More Players Than Ever
In addition, ESPN will have at least 14 of the top prospective draftees in the Green Room (the most ever present at the Draft), Glowpoint HD telepresence video conferencing with all 32 NFL teams (eight of which will have accompanying reporters), and 25 on-site setups for top players around the country (three of which will have reporters).

“We’ve increased the number of players that we’re with around the country,” says Rothman. “This is old-school stuff. We were doing it way back when we first started the Draft. Back then, though, we would be live with maybe a player or two. Now, to have 25 live on-site setups, it’s definitely big time.”

Unfortunately, while the on-site views of draftees celebrating with their friends and family provide an added level of intimacy to the telecast, it also prevents ESPN from claiming the Draft as a 100% HD broadcast. “The Draft is totally in HD except for the 25 live shots with the players. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s just too costly to do that in HD,” says Rothman. “But everything else is in full 720p.”

Keeping Up the Pace
Rothman and company will be tasked with managing a hoard of preproduced content while keeping up with the pace of the draft. With more than 200 player highlight reels on tap, one for each potential draftee, cueing up the right video at the right second presents an obvious challenge.

“The truth of the matter is, there is a major abundance of tape, so we worked out with the league years ago to give us the pick about 30 seconds ahead of time so at least we can tee up the proper material in the truck,” says Rothman. “We don’t tell our talent because we want them to react, but we do get tipped by the league who the player is, so we have the ability to dial up the right video.”

Sharing the Wealth
ESPN will send two feeds back to Bristol: a primary path for the linear Draft coverage and a secondary feed to supply interviews, reports, and other video to ESPNews, SportsCenter, ESPN.com, and other ESPN entities.

“We work very aggressively at sharing some of the wealth of resources we have with other platforms,” says Rothman. “There’s a lot of orchestration involved with this abundance of riches, and I think our less-is-more approach this year allows us to maximize those resources.”

ESPN will also be sharing camera feeds with NFL Network, which it has done since the Draft arrived at Radio City in 2006. For example, NFL Network will provide ESPN with two feeds from its robotic cameras in the Green Room, and ESPN will return the favor by supplying a SteadiCam in the Green Room and a jib just outside it, as well as the primary podium-camera feed.

“For the sake of not stumbling over each other, we give [NFL Network] feeds from some of our cameras, and they give us some of theirs,” says Rothman. “Essentially, we split the theater with NFL Network: we take one half, and they take the other half. There’s a lot of cooperation in this; there has to be.”