How the 2020 NFL Draft Kicked Off Sports activities TV’s Nice De-Glossing 

When Trey Wingo hosted the NFL draft last year, he wasn’t wearing makeup. In fact, ESPN’s entire show was what Draftniks call “unpolished”. The pandemic forced the NFL to relocate the Las Vegas draft, where potential customers appeared on a floating red carpet in the fountains in front of the Bellagio, to a Connecticut studio where Wingo was hanging out with a floor manager. Roger Goodell was stuck in his basement. The rest of the cast on ESPN – including three NFL Network analysts whose own show had been canceled – beamed on remote feeds. For the next three days, Wingo absorbed the emptiness of the studio. ESPN wanted to work through the draft “without it looking like a really bad Wayne’s World sketch,” he told me last week.

The 2020 draft was of a public quality. But it turned out to be almost adorable. ESPN replaced footage of Goodell hugging prospects with footage of Bill Belichick’s dog. Kliff Kingsbury showed his view of Camelback Mountain. Mike McCarthy was sitting far too close to the camera. A competing network manager said of the draft, “It was better.”

Anyone who watches sports studio shows (thanks for your service) expected them to look shiny and expensive. The hosts sit on sets the size of a hangar, which are backed by towering monitor walls, with bright graphics in the “lower third”. In April last year, sports television had to put on make-up. Since the result was arguably better, it raised a question. What’s the point of Polish?

The 2010s was the decade that the sports studio show lit up. Wingo hosted the design of Digital Center 2 (DC-2). This is the complex ESPN that opened in 2014 with 114 monitors in the SportsCenter studio and priced at over $ 178 million. ESPN, like any network that shows studio shows, wanted guests to be on the set to ensure a clean appearance and simple banter.

“Each week they flew up to 30, 40 analysts at ESPN for all the different sports that were going on,” Wingo said. “Fly her to Bristol. Put them up in a hotel. Give them rental cars. Give them daily rates. Back and forth, then she fly home and someone else comes in. “

Networks have put even more resources into the design. “We’re certainly attacking it more like a game production than a studio show production,” said Charlie Yook, the executive director who oversees draft reporting on the NFL Network. In 2019, ESPN and ABC boasted that their broadcasts included “an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 feet of fiber optic cable,” “more than 1,000 production items,” and “25” sense of place “bursts with local Nashville artists”.

ESPN and NFL Network were involved in a competition to see who could place more remote cameras in the war rooms and in the homes of the team’s potential customers. It was unthinkable to see Mel Kiper Jr. or Daniel Jeremiah make a pre-draft hit on a competing network. “People would say, ‘Are you up?'” Yook said.

The glitz of studio shows was a product of the era. When the cable bundle still seemed impregnable, networks had money to burn. A fancier set could give your show a distinctive look, thought went away, or serve as an offer for a sports league that wanted to make you happy. The glossing over of TV shows is also an issue in the Executive Playbook. A manager in need of a “win” can propose a new set or a graphical revision. It’s a lot easier than creating a hit show.

TV viewers take care of hosts. They care about what topics these hosts are talking about. There is no evidence that they care about sets or graphics. “TV people make TV shows more for TV people than for viewers,” one executive told me.

Another said: “Do you do these shows for your employees – that is, for the corner office? Or do you do these shows for the fans? Because when the fans watch shows, they never say to me, ‘Man, I love those lower thirds. ‘“

The 2020 design was a random experiment on downsizing. ESPN and NFL Network have not sent camera crews to prospect homes. NFL Media sent out iPhone production kits instead. The video quality wasn’t quite that high, but it was enough.

“We used to be in a control room,” said Seth Markman, the ESPN manager in charge of NFL studio shows. “I remember vividly when the directors said, ‘We can’t use this camera – it doesn’t look good enough!’ I think these days are over. “

In a normal year, Wingo could see an analyst on the other side of the desk waving his hand when he tried to talk about a prospect. But as in previous editions of ESPN’s NFL Live, the network’s analysts were spread across the country. “I was asked about the draft by someone, ‘Hey, what did Mel really think of this player?'” Said Wingo, who left ESPN last year to cover this year’s draft for Fox Sports. “And I say, ‘I don’t know. ‘Ordinarily we’d have these conversations in commercial breaks and a little bit of kibitz. There was none of that. “

An attentive observer of last year’s design could see the strains of a scaled-down production. On the first day, Louis Riddick’s feed had a slight delay. Wingo had to hand over his analysts on purpose, leaving little room for spontaneity. But ESPN offered the same information and attitudes about conscripts that it always does. And although the 2020 draft arrived a few weeks after the nation was locked in, it was far better on television than this year’s Oscars.

The pandemic has accelerated the demise of studio shows. According to business executives, anyone who’s been talking to relatives and colleagues about Zoom for a year won’t wonder why Kendrick Perkins looks a little fuzzy when he’s beaming in The Jump. YouTube shows like Pat McAfees have shown that you can create a set that looks unique without it looking like it will cost a fortune.

“You can save a lot of money by the way,” said one executive. That is of course the main attraction. Networks lost advertising revenue during the pandemic and will pay billions more to the NFL under the new rights deal. To save money, they can create clearer layers between studio shows that deal with “gem” traits like the NFL or NBA that are lavishly covered and everything else. Instead of insisting on personal studio visits, they can live with remote controls. Executives believe that this process can easily save a few million dollars a year. It’s the same thing they tried to do by carving money out of talent contracts before the pandemic started.

On Thursday, the NFL draft will seek to regain some of its pre-pandemic glory. The event will have a Lake Erie setting, a “vaccinated fan zone” and a performance by Kings of Leon.

However, if you take a closer look, you see signs of the more frugal future of networks. In the spirit of the Comity and Cost savings, ESPN and NFL Network have canceled the draft camera wars. “It was kind of childish,” said Markman. This year there will be a single feed from each war room or prospect’s house and the networks will share it.

Last week, Mel Kiper Jr. and Daniel Jeremiah met on each other’s networks, a sign of the truce in the design community. “It kind of feels like an Avenger,” said Yook.

The design of a spectacle is increasingly being outsourced to teams. The Rams rented a beach house in Malibu as a war room. In a subtle but important change, viewers see the sponsoring mortgage company’s name on a telephoto rather than in the studio.

A TV manager is likely to celebrate the end of the pandemic by ordering a new monitor wall. But future studio shows are likely to resemble the unpolished draft for 2020 more than this year’s version. As one executive said, “That ‘wow, we learned so much during the pandemic” story is a bit absurd. A good producer should have known. Now all you have left is the corner office’s permission to do this. ”

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