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Three-network coverage shows continued growth of the NFL draft

2018 NFL Draft

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26: Lamar Jackson of Louisville talks with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #32 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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When ESPN first approached NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle about televising the 1980 NFL draft, Rozelle thought it was crazy: Who would want to spend hours watching the commissioner read college football players’ names?

The answer is, millions of people.

The NFL draft has now grown to be such a huge television event that this year, for the first time, viewers will have three options: ESPN is televising the draft once again, as it has every year since 1980. NFL Network is televising the draft once again, as it has every year since 2006. And for the first time, ABC will produce its own separate broadcast of the draft this year, with its own announcers and commentary. (Last year FOX showed the draft, but only as a simulcast of NFL Network’s coverage.)

That Disney is showing the draft on both ESPN and ABC, and devoting the resources necessary for separate broadcasts, shows how significant the draft has become in the television world. ABC host Robin Roberts has said that her broadcast will focus on storytelling and letting fans get to know these young players as people, while ESPN will continue its longstanding show with Mel Kiper and others letting fans get to know them as football players.

NFL Network’s coverage will be significantly different this year with Mike Mayock having left the network for the Oakland Raiders. Mayock has long been the voice most associated with the coverage of the draft on the league-owned network, but now Daniel Jeremiah will fill that role.

The NFL so prioritizes the draft as its biggest offseason event that there’s been some talk of trying to get every network to show the draft, the way they all broadcast political conventions. That may be a stretch, but people who underestimated the public’s appetite for the NFL draft have been proven wrong before. Even Pete Rozelle.