The NBA offseason—can it be only 10 days old?—has already produced a roller coaster of emotions for NBA lovers, from the Celtics-Sixers exchanging the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in this year’s draft to various trades involving well known NBA names (Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, D’Angelo Russell etc…). This doesn’t even include all the Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis rumors and the dismissal of Cavaliers general manager David Griffin.
How will this impact ESPN’s viewership for the 2017 NBA draft, which tips off Thursday at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN? It can only help. Last year NBA draft was the least watched since 2012, drawing 2.994 million viewers on ESPN. That was down 19.9% from the 2015 NBA draft, which averaged 3.738 million viewers and was the most-watched NBA draft ever.
If you are an ESPN executive or NBA official, you’d argue that last year’s draft was particularly weak on franchise players and there was little drama at the top with Ben Simmons a lock at No. 1.
There was also the debut of The Vertical’s streaming presentation, which offered a blueprint on how to pick off some audience from a broadcast rights-holder for events such as a draft. They were ahead of ESPN’s coverage all night on picks and while all companies spin digital metrics —I took the numbers Yahoo sent out with a grain of salt—I believe the presence of The Vertical was part of the reason ESPN was down 20 percent. The irony is the ringleader of The Vertical’s coverage—Adrian Wojnarowski—will head to ESPN sometime in the next couple of weeks. It reminds me of when Han Solo joined The Empire.
David Ceisler, the coordinating producer who oversees the NBA draft coverage for ESPN, thinks the network is going to do well on Thursday regarding ratings. Ceisler produced the Heisman Trophy show for ESPN for many years and always found that a competitive Heisman vote or finalists involving blue blood programs produced the best ratings.
“When it is a foregone conclusion as to who will be drafted, the intrigue goes away,” Ceisler said. “I think we are in a very good spot this year with major franchises drafting early and players from established programs.”
One change from last year’s coverage, according to Ceisler, is that ESPN will get the first overall pick for an extended interview on its set at some point of the night. They have also petitioned the league to get more small cameras at players’ tables in the Green Room. As always, the goal is more access.
For years ESPN’s NBA draft coverage featured men screaming about international players being drafted, but they’ve come a long way over the years regarding talent. The main desk will be helmed by host Rece Davis and analysts Jay Bilas, Jalen Rose, and Michael Wilbon. Jay Williams will serve as a jack-of-all trades, from interviewing players and offering player breakdowns. The Green Room interviews will be conducted by Allison Williams, while Jeff Goodman will be on the floor to report any breaking news. Tom Penn offers perspective from a general manager’s point of view. ESPN’s best on-camera asset once again will be analyst Fran Fraschilla, who provides international expertise. The network has reporters stationed with multiple teams including Dave McMenamin (Celtics), Ramona Shelburne (Lakers), Mark Schwarz (76ers) and Coley Harvey (Knicks).
One major change when it comes to NBA draft night is that ESPN is no longer alone when it comes to comprehensive coverage of the event on a platform. Once again Yahoo’s The Vertical will air a live NBA draft show. The talent includes host Chris Mannix, former Indiana coach Tom Crean, front-office insider Bobby Marks and Mike Schmitz from DraftExpress. Site founder Wojnarowski will be reporting live from The Barclays Center. Reporter Shams Charania and Jonathan Givony of draftExpress will also be part of the coverage. The show will be streamed live on The Vertical, Yahoo Sports and across social media accounts.
Sports Illustrated’s The Crossover (in-house promotion) will debut a live NBA draft show on Thursday night with instant analysis, insight and reactions to the draft. The show will be hosted by SI Now anchor Maggie Gray and includes former No. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown, former Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn, current NBA players Garrett Temple of the Sacramento Kings and Kyle O’Quinn of the New York Knicks as analysts. The show begins streaming at 7 p.m. ET and will continue live through the entire first round of the 2017 NBA draft on SI.com and Facebook.com/SportsIllustrated.
NBA TV will air live pick-by-pick analysis throughout the first and second round as well as post-selection interviews from Barclays Center. The network’s commentators in Brooklyn includes Kenny Smith, Steve Smith, Seth Davis, Scott Howard-Cooper, Eric Pincus and Jared Greenberg. Casey Stern will host.
Ceisler said that ESPN production staffers such as himself working in a broadcast truck outside the Barclays Center are well aware of what The Vertical and others are doing in streaming media. (This is Ceisler’s third year as coordinating producer; ESPN’s college basketball group handles the majority of the production group.) “We pay to attention to it during the night,” he said. “We want to know what other outlets have and we absolutely ask our folks what they are hearing or if they have information about a report elsewhere. It is all part of the game. One thing we always do is to think about our own sourcing early prior to the draft.”
If you end up listening to the draft via audio, you have multiple options: ESPN Radio’s coverage features analysts P.J. Carlesimo, Bob Valvano, and additional perspective and reporting from Marc Stein. Fox Sports Radio has Doug Gottlieb, Chris Broussard, and Metta World Peace offering analysis on its affiliates and FS1's Facebook & Twitter pages. Starting at 7:00 p.m., SiriusXM will carry ESPN Radio’s broadcast of the draft live, which will simulcast on the ESPN Radio and SiriusXM NBA Radio channels on SiriusXM. The satellite network will have a live two hour post draft show on SiriusXM NBA Radio hosted by Mark Morgan and Chris Spatola.