Monday, April 22, 2013

Tweeting and the NFL Draft

This week, after what felt like an extremely long drought, the NFL returns from it's admittedly brief TV hiatus to reclaim the eyeballs of U.S. sports fans.  The event is the NFL draft, a once largely ignored process which has been transformed by the collective production budgets of ESPN and NFL Network into a three-day media extravaganza.

What's great about the NFL Draft?

For NFL geeks like myself, there's a lot to like.

 - Unique Competition: A football game pits two teams against each other.  And although the strategies are complex, you only have one opponent.  The Draft is a simultaneous competition against every other team in the league at the same time.

 - High Stakes: The impact of a well-executed draft can set up your team for years and become the cliched example that future writers will refer to as a great draft.  That 70's draft from the Steelers, the 90's draft for the Cowboys....No other day has as much potential to help your team achieve sustained success as draft day.

 - Transparency into Philosophy: Unfortunately, as fans we don't get to listen in on our favorite team's player evaluation discussions or free agent negotiations.  We hear about signings and releases after the fact.  But in the draft, we see those decisions taking place in real-time, and are allowed just a bit of improved visibility into a league that avoids transparency more than a Cayman Islands financier.

Also, we get to make fun of the Jets

But that's not to say there aren't downsides with watching the NFL Draft.  Leaving aside the fact that my wife can barely tolerate actual football, she completely loses her mind when I try to explain to her why I want to watch a bunch of guys sit and talk about future players for 12 hours. (I also ignore the fact that the majority of the players selected won't ever make a big difference in the league)

Putting marital conflict aside, there is one other thing that's bothered my about watching the NFL draft recently. 


The biggest moments of intrigue at the NFL draft are the seconds as the Commissioner (or his representative) steps to the podium to announce each selection.  There's such potential which each card bearing the name of a player.  Is it the guy expected to go early?  A guy no one's heard of? A guy with an absurd choice of outfit?

But lately, thanks to Twitter, ESPN, and the NFL Network, no one has been surprised about an NFL draft pick in years.

That's because as the clock ticks down and the commissioner gets ready to announce it, one of their reporters "breaks" the story of which player is going to be picked.

I'm putting quotes around "breaks", because it not only ruins all the fun of watching the selection, it's also just about the lamest breaking news possible.

I know reporters obsess about being first to the story (sometimes even more than actually being right), but being first by a few seconds really stretches the idea that you're providing a valuable service.  What's the marginal utility from having that knowledge for an extra 20 seconds?

If we're trading stocks, I get it.  But this is entertainment we're talking about.  A great comparison would be if, during the Oscars ceremony, one of the Ernst & Young auditors leaped out onto the stage and screamed, 'It's Argo!!!' right as Best Picture nominees were being read.

Information that does nothing but destroy any sense of drama from the event, which by the way, is why most people are watching.

You could argue that I should avoid Twitter to prevent this sort of thing, but its extending into TV coverage as well.  I can consistently recall ESPN announcers like Chris Berman making sure the entire audience knows who'll be picked in a very similar fashion. (They'll also show players talking on their cell phones, which is the same thing)

Collectively, the media really doesn't understand what fans are looking for, and has this misguided notion that we give a crap who confirms it first, when all we're looking for is the chance to see Jets fans shocked and appalled with genuine surprise.

Or at least, that's the way it used to be.  But it looks like our collective prayers have been answered...

While ESPN and NFL Network will compete fiercely for audience this week, they have once again come together for a gentleman's agreement on the subject of tipping draft picks. Both networks have pledged not to show images of players on the phone in the green room at Radio City Music Hall. In addition to that, both networks tell that they will tell staffers not to report pick-by-pick selections on their Twitter feeds prior to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks on the podium. The Twitter edict will extend into the second round of the draft. Teams have 10 minutes to pick in the first round, seven minutes in the second round and five minutes for the rest of the draft. 

"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," said ESPN NFL senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, who oversees draft coverage for the network."

I haven't been this excited about a TV Sports innovation since the yellow first down line!

Finally, the networks understand that tipping picks ruins their coverage.  Although its funny that the two networks involved have to essentially collude to keep from ruining their own shows.  It implies ESPN or NFL Network have incentive to cheat and start tipping picks...but for me, if I knew only one network was reporting picks early, I'd actually change to the OTHER provider.

Fortunately I won't have to worry.  Although this raises some interesting questions about what reporters who don't work for ESPN or NFL Network will do (unbound by twitter restrictions, will they go nuts and succeed at gaining more followers?  can ESPN'ers retweet them since its technically NOT reporting?), and it also raises the question of what exactly Adam Schefter will do during the draft when he can't tweet all the picks, I'm extremely excited for it.

My wife, less so.

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