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The MEDIA Circus
NOW ENTERING NFL DRAFT
The most wired reporter during the opening round of last year's NFL draft wasn't ESPN's Chris Mortensen or Adam Schefter. It was Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who tweeted the first 14 picks on his personal feed before commissioner Roger Goodell revealed those selections to millions of television viewers.
Twitter has become an invaluable resource for draft fans, but it steps all over the coverage on ESPN and NFL Network. Last year, sometime around the 10th pick of the second round, NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger told his information people to stop tweeting picks because they were getting too far ahead of the telecast. ESPN reporters got a similar directive at around the same time. "It was very frustrating for both [network's] production teams when we started to realize the insiders were tweeting out all the picks," Weinberger says. "Collectively, on the fly, we said, This has to stop."
Maintaining the dramatic tension of the first round is important for both networks. A combined average of 8.1 million viewers watched the opening round on ESPN and NFL Network in 2012, an increase of 16% from the previous year. ESPN, which pays $1.1 billion per year for the rights to broadcast Monday Night Football, the Pro Bowl and the draft to its 98.5 million households, averaged 2.9 million viewers for its three-day draft coverage, while the NFL Network, which reaches 72 million households, finished with an average of 757,000 viewers, up 34% over 2011.
Following discussions this month between the NFL and both broadcasters, ESPN and the NFL Network agreed that their staffers would not tweet out first-round picks if they found out the information before the commissioner's announcement. That philosophy most likely will extend to the second night of coverage as well. Says Seth Markman, senior NFL coordinating producer for ESPN, "We could get beat on some stories, but I'd rather get beat on a couple of draft picks on Thursday night [round 1] than anger the majority of the fan base."
There are caveats. Markman says he won't prevent his staff from breaking a major draft story on Twitter, and Schefter said he plans to tweet headline-making selections or transactions if he gets them, such as where Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o gets drafted. But he will follow the edict otherwise. "It's logical to put some things in place for a made-for-TV event," says Schefter, who has 2.2 million Twitter followers, the most of any ESPN staffer. "I don't like to concede anything, but if they want me to concede on certain lesser-known picks, I'm O.K. with that."