When the NFL Draft starts next week, there will be no green room viewings of the University of Alabama’s best prospects. It could have been a busy night for former UA standouts on the stage in Las Vegas, given as many as five are projected to be drafted in the first round.
They may not get to walk across the stage in a fancy suit and shake the hand of commissioner Roger Goodell, but they will still be featured on the telecast in some way.
Last week, it was revealed that six former UA players will be among the nearly 60 players having some role in ESPN, ABC and NFL Network’s coverage of the Draft: quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr., outside linebacker Terrell Lewis and safety Xavier McKinney.
In a Tuesday teleconference, ESPN’s vice president of production Seth Markman and NFL Network’s Senior Vice President of Programming and Production Mark Quenzel shed some light on how the players will be featured in coverage of the draft.
“We had a lot of success last year with Tom Rinaldi interviewing player families to change that broadcast a little bit, to make it a little more about their journeys and their families, and we want to try to do that again,” Markman said. “The teams, getting the picks in, all of that is going to work. Making sure that all these outlets we have to get shots of the players and hear from the players, that we get all of that, I think that’s just what keeps me up at night a little bit.
“We have a great opportunity here to bring fans across the country a little bit of hope, a little bit of joy, maybe a bit of an escape from what we’re all experiencing day to day.”
Quenzel said the players — as are the general managers and coaches of the NFL franchises — will be setting up the video equipment from wherever they are watching the draft, in most cases at home. Quenzel said almost all of the hardware is either already sent or in the process of being sent, and players will be receiving instructions on how to set up the hardware, to be tested before the draft starts on April 23.
It’s far from high production value standards of these networks, but they have found that the viewer is appreciative of whatever they can get during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think viewers have an unbelievable new understanding and tolerance for anything that we need to do at this point,” Markman said. “I’ve watched shows on other networks where people are in their basements and the signal isn’t that strong, people have AirPods or whatever they have in our ears, and we have not gotten any feedback from viewers being disappointed in the quality or what anything looks like. I think people understand it and they are appreciative that we are trying our best to create some normalcy, even though we can’t, and trying to stay as safe as possible.”
ESPN’s production staff itself will also be observing social distancing protocols: Markman said a typical NFL Draft control room has 15 to 20 people in it, but this year they will have seven people spread through two control rooms to maintain the six-foot distances between people. Off-camera personnel will also be wearing masks to comply with Connecticut law.
Both Markman and Quenzel do not plan on losing sight of the pandemic in the broadcast. It will both raise money for organizations fighting the virus and, as Quenzel put it, “saluting the first responders, the people in grocery stores, all the people that deserve a proper salute and thank you to the people that aren’t staying home every day.”
The broadcast partners hope to learn something from the WNBA Draft, on Friday, to improve their chances of a smooth draft the ensuing weekend. They will surely closely monitor it and attempt to learn from the people that produced it, but they know their task is bigger than simply broadcasting a draft.
“It’s clearly about drafting players, but even more so it’s about setting the tone that we understand that there’s something larger than us throughout the world,” Quenzel said. “How do we set that tone first on Thursday night and how do we continue to maintain it through three days of the draft.”