ESPN, Twitter and the NBA enter Draft Night in a media deal love triangle. How it will play out for fans remains to be seen.
If you want to know who your team is going to select in tonight’s NBA Draft before Adam Silver does, you are going to have to know where to look. While past draft nights have been dominated by breaking news tweeted by the likes of Adrian Wojnarowski, he and his ESPN colleagues have been told not to mention picks on Twitter before they are announced on the cable network’s main broadcast (as was first reported by Awful Announcing) this time around.
That said, ESPN is far from abandoning the social network. For one, Wojnarowski posted hours before the draft with how the top picks might fall.
Here's how the Top 6 of tonight's NBA Draft is taking shape: 1. Suns: Deandre Ayton. 2. Kings: Marvin Bagley Jr.; 3. Hawks: Luka Doncic; 4. Jaren Jackson, Jr.; 5. Mavericks: Mo Bamba; 6. Magic: Trae Young.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 21, 2018
And once the picks begin to flow, Ryan Hollins, David Jacoby and Ryen Russillo will be commenting on them as part of “On the Clock,” an ESPN broadcast exclusive to Twitter, “that’s true to the platform,” in the words of ESPN social media director Mike Foss. “It’s going to be interactive and engaging to the audience in real-time as the Draft unfolds.”
The analysts are largely expected to react to the ESPN telecast though, so if a pick leaks early on Twitter, don’t expect them to weigh in immediately. The show is meant a second-screen experience to go along with either ESPN’s main broadcast (headlined by host Rece Davis, analysts Chauncey Billups and Jay Bilas, as well as Wojnarowski) or ESPN2’s The Jump: NBA Draft Special, with Rachel Nichols and the rest of ESPN’s stable of commentators.
ESPN’s offerings provide an interesting test to see if viewers prefer experiencing the drama of draft night "spoiler-free," or whether they’d rather have the news as soon as possible for what is in many ways a glorified transaction log. The decision is also a notable data point as the sports entertainment behemoth attempts to extend its brand on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter without cannibalizing the mothership.
Meanwhile, Twitter is eager to further its lead as the premier destination for diehard NBA fans while navigating its place in a bit of a love triangle of media deals between the league and ESPN. For weeks, the social network has been promoting #NBATwitter as the non-stop home for basketball conversation, and it has teamed up directly with the NBA to create original content with players as soon as they are drafted. How it will promote those clips as well as "On the Clock" alongside instances in which tweets beat Twitter’s broadcast partner to breaking news remains to be seen.
As for the NBA itself, while it has usually been more progressive in its acceptance of social media, the league this time seems happy to help ESPN control the draft-night narrative. “We spoke with our media partners about our preference that ESPN’s exclusive broadcast rights be honored,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told The Washington Post. “But each organization will make its own editorial decisions.” Tim Bontemps reported that Turner Sports (which also owns Bleacher Report) and Yahoo Sports, where Wojnarowski mentee Shams Charania still works, will also not reveal picks ahead of time. Promos for Yahoo’s draft-night stream posted a week ago said Charania would provide “insider info on breaking picks before they happen” but on Thursday, Oath executive Geoff Reiss said in a statement: “The coverage, commentary and reporting we're planning around this year's draft will be awesome for fans, and goes well beyond any upside to a 30 second spoiler on the event."
That opens an opportunity for reporters at other outlets like The New York Times—home of former ESPN-er Marc Stein—and The Athletic to own the online discussion. (Disclaimer: SI has its own draft-night live show, Crossover TV’s NBA Draft Extravaganza, and I’m told the hosts will be reacting both to the ESPN telecast as well as online discussion). As Deandre Ayton & Co. begin to change the face of the NBA, maybe a Woj contender will rise as well.