With the draft approaching, the now-annual debate has emerged regarding whether the networks that broadcast the proceedings — ESPN and NFL Network — should avoid tipping picks.
It’s a philosophical question that both networks should resolve by asking this simple question: What does the audience want?
Last year, a poll on PFT revealed that more than 78 percent of the 11,500 who responded don’t want the picks to be tipped. We’re starting that same poll from scratch below, in order to get a fresh reading.
The challenge for the networks comes from the unique nature of the draft. While on one hand ESPN and NFLN have hired a small army of news gatherers, the draft represents pro football’s equivalent of the Oscars. And for the same reasons that audience doesn’t want George Stephanopoulous scurrying around trying to find out what it written inside the envelopes, the NFL draft audience doesn’t want to know whose name is one the card in the hands of the Commissioner until the Commissioner announces its contents from the stage at Radio City Music Hall.
The wishes of the audience apply both to reporting picks and predicting them. While ESPN producer Seth Markman continues to insist that the advance information regarding the identity of each pick that makes its way to the production truck isn’t shared with the on-air talent, anyone who has worked in live television knows that good producers want to give their on-air talent the best possible information so that the on-air talent can be prepared to say intelligent things. So if Markman is a good producer (and we assume he is), Markman presses his “all call” button and lets the guys at the desk know who they will be talking about.
And then Chris Berman often feels compelled to create the false impression with the audience that he is clairvoyant.
Even if Berman somehow is merely guessing, he guesses right often enough to undermine the audience experience. Which is what this all comes back to. Networks that care about the audience give the audience what the audience wants. Networks that care only about the network give the audience what the network thinks the audience should want.
When it comes to the first round of the draft, the audience doesn’t want to know who the pick will be, via a tip or a guess or a camera placed in the player’s home, before the Commissioner announces it. The sooner ESPN and NFLN figure that out and act accordingly, the more enjoyable the draft will be for those watching it on television.