Inside look at ESPN, NFL Network's coverage of draft; more Media Circus
As part of a long-standing agreement between the NFL, ESPN and the NFL Network, the latter two rotate each year on who gets the first interview with the No. 1 overall pick of the NFL draft immediately after he is selected. For instance, last year the NFL Network had the first interview with Jadeveon Clowney, the former South Carolina defensive end who was taken by the Houston Texans. This year ESPN was given dibs on all odd-number picks (No. 1, No. 3, etc.) meaning the first interview with Jameis Winston should have gone to ESPN and reporter Tom Rinaldi, who was with Winston in Bessemer, Alabama.
Except, it didn’t.
Two NFL media sources told SI.com that Winston’s camp, which was upset at the network’s overall coverage of the top pick prior to the draft, declined to grant ESPN the first post-draft interview. Instead, Winston spoke with the NFL Network’s Steve Wyche around the time Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was being selected at No. 2 by the Tennessee Titans. The Winston interview aired on the NFL Network after the fifth overall selection.
Rinaldi eventually interviewed Winston but that interview never ran during the draft telecast. Instead, it ran on SportsCenter after the opening round of the draft concluded last Thursday. Why that decision? Because by the time ESPN got the interview, it was six or so picks into the draft and ESPN executives, sources said, decided it made no sense to show an interview then with the top pick.
On Sunday, ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman declined to comment on the specifics of the Winston interview, as did NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger. (Winston's agent, Greg Genske, responded to an email from SI.com on Monday morning: "On the night Jameis joined the NFL, it was simply our preference that his first interview be with NFL Network," Genske said. "A few seconds later, Jameis enjoyed his interview with Tom Rinaldi and looks forward to future interviews with ESPN.").
Had Winston been at the draft site, it’s likely the NFL, which is a partner in this agreement, would have stepped in and prompted Team Winston to talk first with ESPN.
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the bigger sports media stories of the week.
1. I initially planned to lead this column with a long piece about watching every major event on Saturday, but my afternoon turned when CNN’s Rachel Nichols and ESPN and HBO Sports’s Michelle Beadle, both fervent critics of Floyd Mayweather with a focus on his domestic violence abuse, sent word out through their Twitter accounts that they had their credentials revoked by members of Mayweather’s team. Neither ended up covering the fight.
Denying credential requests has long been a tool of organizations in sports and politics as a way of punishing media members who have been critical of an organization. Nichols’s reputation as a journalist is of the highest order and Beadle has been as outspoken as anyone at ESPN on Mayweather’s domestic abuse record. Based on my reporting, I believe this was an effort on Mayweather’s camp to restrict two prominent critics from covering the fight.
1a. NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said that Saturday felt like one of those memorable days during the middle of the Summer Olympic Games when track and field, swimming, beach volleyball and other high-profile events all converge for a day-long sportsapalooza.
“Each event was huge in itself on Saturday but bring them together and what a huge day,” Lazarus said by phone on Sunday.
Lazarus’s company played a major role in what will easily be the biggest sports television day of 2015, a wonderland that included Premier League soccer, the final rounds of the NFL draft, the Stanley Cup playoffs (Rangers-Capitals), a full slate of MLB games (including Red Sox-Yankees), a NASCAR race (the Winn-Dixie 300 at Talladega), the Kentucky Derby, a thrilling NBA Game 7 (Clippers-Spurs), the PGA Tour WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship and Floyd Mayweather’s win over Manny Pacquiao.
While he’s admittedly a little parochial toward the events his company was part of (that includes the fight given the Comcast connections), Lazarus is also a huge sports fan. He said he watched the NBC broadcast of Leicester City-Newcastle from his hotel room in Louisville and then moved to an NBC production truck at Churchill Downs to watch more EPL soccer, the Rangers-Capitals and the early Churchill Downs coverage on NBCSN. He then watched the Derby live from the stands and headed back home to Connecticut to catch the conclusion of the PGA event and the fight.
As for NBC, both the Derby (more on this below) and the golf event did terrific numbers. Lazarus said he thought the pre-publicity for all the sports airing through social media, television newspapers, radio and other mediums helped push viewership for all networks.
“I think everything built on each other,” Lazarus said. “Sports fans found ways and times to watch on Saturday.”
1b. NBC's coverage of American Pharoah's win in the Derby drew a 10.8 overnight rating, the highest Derby overnight in 23 years since Lil E.Tee won in 1992. It was also NBC’s best overnight since it took over the coverage 15 years ago. The overnight was up 7% from last year.
1c. The highest-rated TV markets for the Derby:
2. Ft. Myers
4. West Palm Beach
2. On Sunday afternoon I spoke with Markman (ESPN) and Weinberger (NFL Network) about how they viewed their coverage:
SI.com: What worked for you?
Markman: Adding Louis Riddick for Day 1 worked for us. Having a front office guy for Day 1 gave us a different perspective. The talent lineup and depth of our talent was on display for all three days. We don’t go with the same lineup; we try to diversity it for viewers and go deeper with guys that really know these players. We gave it a fresh look each day.
Weinberger: I was amazed by the turnout by the city of Chicago. It far surpassed what I expected and it turned into so much more of an event than a meeting to take players. And I was really pleased with how our team covered it. They recognized it before the draft started, the scope of it, and from shots on top of the skyline to the buildings, I thought we really took advantage of that to create some new energy to the event. Between the NFL, NFL Network and the city of Chicago, we created something new that was very exciting. I think we just did a really good job of covering the outside. No one had any idea what it would like.
SI.com: What could have been better?
Markman: Hard for me to say without looking a tape. Nothing to do with us specifically, but we might have to figure out some things if the draft goes back to Chicago. I loved Day 3. I thought it was great—the atmosphere, the people, being outside. But I think there was a little bit of a lack of energy that we saw in New York City. I’m not sure why. It just felt like flatter. Maybe it had something to do with the Bears picking No. 7 and there being so many Bears fans versus fans of different teams. After they picked, I saw some people leave which we don’t see ever at Radio City. I also think, and this can sound weird, it lacked the edge of the New York crowd. The fans of Chicago are so nice and you did not get the booing of certain teams, picks and players. Chicago did a great job and I hope we come back, but I think there are a few things the NFL and us need to look at far as fan engagement.
Weinberger: The draft moves so quickly that I’m not sure we were able to talk about whether a team got better on Night 1. One of our goals was to ask the question, “Did they just get better?” We did our usual great job of analyzing the player that got picked, but I think we didn’t get to the analysis of the team, which is how we wanted to broaden it this year. But I have to watch the tape to be sure.
SI.com: What is something watch for in 2016?
Markman: Riddick being a permanent part of the television coverage next year.
"It’s just too early to talk about assignments, but he impressed all of us and I think it will be hard not to have him back. He will be a hard guy to move."
Weinberger: The NFL Network showed every selection as it was made for the whole draft. NFLN did that through the third round while ESPN opted out of that thesis in the 60s and talked about other things during picks before catching viewers up with draft selections
"With the speed and ‘event’ of the draft, we have to evaluate if that’s what we want to do and what a fan really wants. We do have four guys between D.J. [Daniel Jeremiah] Charles Davis, Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen who could still be talking if it was Round 12; they know all the players. We have to decide if that’s what the fan wants to do we start talking bigger topics."
2a. The standout on Day 1 of the NFL draft? ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, who filled in for Ray Lewis. I spoke to Riddick last Friday about working the draft on television.
2b. ESPN’s first-round coverage of the draft averaged 7,026,000 viewers, down significantly from last year’s record-setting 9.943M. ESPN said WatchESPN had 603,000 unique viewers.
2c. The NFL Network averaged 1.816 million viewers for its first-round coverage last Thursday, down from 2.43 million in 2014.
2d. Here were the top TV markets for ESPN’s coverage of the 2015 NFL draft:
- New Orleans (5.3 rating)
- Cleveland (4.7)
- Columbus (3.7)
T4. Jacksonville (3.3)
T4. Birmingham (3.3)
T4. Philadelphia (3.3)
7. Buffalo (3.1)
8. Denver (3.0)
T9. Norfolk (2.9)
T9. Greensboro (2.9)
11. Baltimore (2.8)
T12. Las Vegas (2.7)
T12. Atlanta (2.7)
14. West Palm Beach (2.6)
2e. Including all three days, ESPN said it averaged 2.931 million viewers for its live draft coverage, down significantly from 2014 (4,121,000 viewers) and '13 (3,035,000) but above '12 (2,924,000).
3. TNT NBA analyst Chris Webber was terrific during the thrilling Game 7 between the Clippers and Spurs, particularly in the final minutes. First, Webber was quick and decisive to call out the phantom foul call on Tim Duncan against Chris Paul with 13 seconds left. But where he really shined was on the game’s final play when the clock inadvertently ran to zero prior to the inbounds play. That set off Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who went off on the officials.
“If I’m Popovich, I am very upset, too,” Webber said. “This messes with your rhythm, your cadence as a play call. This allows the defense to get set back up. An inadvertent whistle in the middle of a last-second play is not something you expect. It gives the defense a chance to scout that same play.”
It was great to see Webber and play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan as excited to call the game as viewers were to watch it. Webber also offered a poignant end note for what was easily the most dramatic watch on Saturday.
“Sports are so fair to everyone because they are unfair to all,” said Webber.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• A sensational oral history by Dan Greene on Muhammad Ali, Ric Flair and a group of pro wrestlers in North Korea
• Bloomberg Businessweek had a cover story on FIFA head Sepp Blatter
• Via Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz: This Is How Las Vegas Protects Floyd Mayweather
• SI’s Alan Shipnuck profiled Miguel Angel Jimenez. Read the first page, then thank me, and finish it.
• The NFL Class of ’90: Where Are They Now? Rich, broke, addled, philosophical, broken. Great work from the NYT’s Ken Belson
• A first-person from the mother of an NFL QB prospect
• The 25 Greatest Super Fights: Boxing’s biggest bouts that lived up to the hype
• Deadspin’s Greg Howard profiled ESPN commentator Jason Whitlock.
• SI's Tim Layden on Derby winner American Pharoah
Non-sports pieces of note
• A Washington, D.C. middle school teacher writes a letter to her white Facebook friends
• Enjoyed this piece by Zachary Crockett on the rise and fall of the hotel mini-bar
• More terrific work from Jessica Contrera of The Washington Post: The (almost) secret life of a K-pop star at Georgetown University
• Sonja Sohn, the excellent actress from The Wire, on Baltimore
• The New York Times had an excellent Q&A with David Letterman
• Via GQ: Welcome to Pariahville
• The Baltimore Sun's coverage of Freddie Gray and Baltimore unrest
5. A sports radio mock draft held by sports-talk radio directors across the country
5a. This was a good back and forth between ESPN’s J.A. Adande and Bomani Jones on the morality of purchasing Mayweather-Pacquiao
5b. Richard Sandomir of The New York Times reviewed the Mayweather-Pacquiao broadcast
5c. Thought it was a significant overreaction by the Houston Rockets to fire social media coordinator Chad Shanks over a single tweet
5d. Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum told Yahoo!’s Kevin Iole that the pay-per-view buys for the fight could be 4-5 million, which would shatter the previous boxing record
5e. ESPN2's broadcast of Heroes of the Dorm, the first competitive e-gaming tournament to air live on ESPN or ESPN 2, averaged 96,000 homes. I’d watch for more on-air e-gaming heading forward on ESPN2; it’s a forward-thinking idea with great potential to attract millennial viewers.
5g. Deadspin’s Tim Burke is unlikely to be invited onto Pardon The Interruption or Around The Horn (executive produced by the same group) given the first five words of this piece