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League looking for ways to put suspense back into the draft


It started several years ago, with ESPN’s Chris Berman telling the audience what the draft pick would be as the Commissioner strolled to the podium to confirm what Berman had said. It’s gotten worse recently, with NFL Network and ESPN reporters tipping the picks before they’re announced -- and with NFLN and ESPN cameras showing players getting a phone call from the team that is going to take them.

The effort to pre-inform the TV audience has become a buzz kill, removing all intrigue from the drum-roll effect of the Commissioner’s left foot, right foot march to the middle of the stage. Even for fans at Radio City Music Hall, the presence of large video screens (one-ear headsets are distributed for listening to either NFL Network or ESPN) spoils the surprise.

Richard Deitsch of reports that the NFL, ESPN, and NFL Network are discussing ways to avoid this. The league says that it won’t show players on the phone from the green room on draft night.

Still, tipping picks is a broader issue of TV production. Even if cameras aren’t showing the player on the phone, the on-air talent can let the cat out of the bag based on things they separately see and hear.

With two networks televising the draft, intervention by the league shouldn’t be needed. Fans would surely flock to the network that decides on its own to defer to the Commissioner, and the bump in ratings would force the other network to do the same.

The problem is that the media is wired to always be first. In this specific context, it’s far more important to let nature take its course and create a real “and the winner is . . . .” moment.

Unless and until the networks figure this out, the viewers will regard both to be losers.