Networks gear up for NFL draft

Some people thought it was a bit much when both ESPN and the NFL Network covered the NFL Draft, but later this month coverage of the event that has morphed into almost perfect sports television will expand even farther.

A broadcast network, ABC, plans to cover the NFL’s player selection process, scheduled April 25-27 in Nashville.

ABC’s coverage will be distinct and separate from that of ESPN the first two nights, even though both networks are owned by Disney. On the third day the coverage will be simulcast.

“Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts will anchor ABC’s coverage of the first round along with ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” crew — Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso.

ABC’s plans sound bit more entertainment-oriented, or something like an up-close-and-personal approach that networks try to bring to the Olympics.

The network’s broadcast will have “an added focus on the personalities and backstories of the draft picks and the overall spectacle of the draft, including live musical acts,” according to a press release.

So expect plenty of country music interludes and performers.

“ESPN is constantly seeking opportunities to innovate and expand our coverage of major events, and the NFL Draft is a perfect example of that. There is no better way to celebrate 40 years of working with the NFL to grow the draft than to bring the considerable assets of The Walt Disney Company to Nashville,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement when the move was first announced. “With ESPN networks and platforms, and the addition of ABC as the exclusive broadcast home to the draft, we will bring more resources than ever before as we introduce fans to the next generation of NFL players.”

ESPN plans to remain with its analyst-driven coverage, notably Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Host Trey Wingo will do a good job as always, and Louis Riddick, who has emerged as a standout for ESPN in numerous roles (maybe “Monday Night Football” could be next) will get plenty of airtime.

NFL Network counters with its deep roster of Hall of Fame players turned analysts, and the gaping hole in its coverage, something that viewers will notice, is the absence of Mike Mayock, who left TV to become the general manager of the Oakland Raiders. So, we’ll see him but not as much and not in his usual role. And that’s a loss. He might never be as good as a GM as he was draft analyst on TV. If he is, the Raiders might actually end up being good again someday.

In most cases, a more-is-better approach is simply not better. Better is better. With the draft, though, if approaches, personalities and storytelling differ a bit there might be room for another broadcast option to work.

It is amazing how many people watch, and the networks make it easy with on-screen graphics and tickers, musical cues when picks happen and so much more. With those touches, viewers can settle in from start to finish or just sample from time to time and still come away satisfied.

Not many TV shows promise such a payoff, and the myriad storylines (team selections, rival team selections, who’s rising, who’s falling, trades) allow for any number of fans to find several reasons to be at least a little interested.

Short season

Hockey season pretty much starts for me during the playoffs and centers on the Penguins, so with the team trailing the New York Islanders in their first round series, 2-0, entering today’s game in Pittsburgh, it’s shaping up as a short season for me.

Today’s game airs at noon on NBC, which typically does a strong job with its hockey coverage. In recent years, the network and its sports-specific offshoot, NBC Sports Network, have proudly owned their NHL coverage and its shown in terms of on-air quality and ratings.

Sure, the NHL will never be the NBA or obviously the NFL, but a reliable home for a sport’s coverage matters to fans, and that’s what the relationship has provided in recent seasons — for the benefit of fans and for the good of the sport.

Tuner tidbits

n Four former Penn State football players were among 33 participants at the NFL’s annual Broadcast Boot Camp at Bowling Green State University earlier this month. The intensive weeklong session is designed to help prepare players for potential-on air careers. About 35% of the camps 300 participants in the past decade have found such employment. So, that means one member of the Penn State quartet has a chance. The four were: Jason Cabinda, Malik Golden, Michael Mauti and Matt McGloin.

n Former Steelers who the NFL has tapped to announce the team’s picks during the NFL Draft include: Santonio Holmes, second round and Brett Keisel, third round.

n Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will join ABC and Robin Roberts during its first-round coverage of the NFL Draft.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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