Last year in Nashville, the NFL Draft became almost as big of a party as the Super Bowl. From live bands to celebrity appearances to cutaway videos of bachelorette parties to players leaping and chest-bumping NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the vibe around the opening night was that of a five-hour long bash you wished you'd been invited to attend.
Times have obviously changed since then and, with the COVID-19 global pandemic omnipresent in all of our minds, so will the coverage of the 2020 NFL Draft next Thursday through Saturday. During a conference call with reporters, ESPN VP of Production Seth Markman and NFL Network SVP of Programming and Production Mark Quenzel laid out the plans for their networks' joint coverage of the draft.
The prevailing theme? Expect a subdued broadcast.
"It's about setting the tone that we understand that there’s something much larger than us going on in the world," Quenzel said. "We're working hard with Seth and his team to make sure we're accomplishing that."
Markman, Quenzel and their teams will set that tone in a number of ways, but the biggest and most prominent message will be how the NFL is giving back to, and saluting, first responders and those impacted by coronavirus. We already know they're conducting a fundraiser benefitting charities that support COVID-19 relief during the draft, but both Markman and Quenzel stressed messaging thanking those on the front lines helping keep the country operating will also be key.
Beyond that, the in-studio draft coverage will look different because the talent won't be close to each other. Trey Wingo and Suzy Kolber will be in studio for the ESPN/NFL Network broadcast while Rece Davis, Maria Taylor, and Jesse Palmer will be in-studio for the ABC broadcast. The remaining talent will be remote in their homes.
Behind the scenes, all of the video technicians, producers and people in the control room will wear masks and everyone will be separated by at least six feet.
"It's tricky on a lot of levels," Markman said. "You're talking about producers wearing masks trying to communicate with the talent and everything that's going on in this broadcast is not ideal. But we do think it's the safest environment."
Another element missing will be the live-fan experience. Markman and Quenzel said they're testing ways to get fans involved. One idea is featuring videos sent in by fans before the draft and using them at appropriate times during the broadcast. But nothing is set in stone in that department.
Goodell's setup is also still being finalized. They know he'll announce the picks from his home on the broadcast, but most of the other details aren't set. Will he stand or will he sit? What's the background going to be? All of that is still being discussed.
"We’re still trying to work through it," Quenzel said. "Anything I told you now would be inaccurate two hours from now."
It's a massive undertaking between two of the biggest entities in sports. There are going to be between 170-180 video feeds, including ones from players, being sent to ESPN's studio in Bristol. The producers will have their hands full trying to get the right person on the broadcast at the appropriate time. Just thinking of that number of balls in the air is daunting.
Mistakes will happen. Feeds could freeze or cut out. But in these uncharted times, the most important element to the broadcast will be finding a tactful mix of celebrating the players who are being drafted while also honoring those most impacted by this global pandemic.