Live From the NFL Draft: With ABC on Board, ESPN Rolls Out Largest Draft Production Ever

Multiple networks, a slew of shows, 1080p telecast, tightly integrated infrastructure mark the effort

In its 40th consecutive year covering the event, ESPN has assembled its largest NFL Draft production to date in Nashville this week. With dual primetime telecasts on ESPN and ABC for the first time, plus a cavalcade of onsite studio shows, ESPN’s NFL Draft footprint is bigger than ever. In addition both the ESPN and the ABC telecasts will be produced in 1080p.

ESPN’s Steve Carter: “It has become one of our biggest and most complex shows of the year. We’re pretty proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here.”

“This year is by far our biggest Draft production ever,” says Steve Carter, senior operations manager, ESPN. “We have seven mobile units, five sets, and over 60 cameras — including eight RF cameras — between the main Draft, ABC, and all our other shows out here. Plus, both the Draft [telecasts] are being produced in 1080p. But I think the most important thing is that we’ve got everything interconnected: cameras, audio, comms, everything. Even though we’ve got all these shows going on here, we’ve built the infrastructure and the interconnection to be able to handle it all pretty seamlessly.”

Beginning last night with Round 1, all three days of the Draft are being broadcast on both ESPN and ABC (as well as on ESPN Deportes), and each network is providing a distinct telecast for Rounds 1-3 in primetime (Rounds 4-7 will be simulcast on both networks). While ESPN focuses on traditional Draft analysis, ABC’s coverage is centered on the journey of the prospects and is hosted by Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, along with the ESPN College Gameday crew and a horde of celebrity guests.

ESPN’s primary NFL Draft set is at the Main Stage in at the base of Lower Broadway.

ESPN/ABC’s quintet of sets is headlined by ESPN’s Main Stage set, where Trey Wingo and company are hosting ESPN’s coverage. The ABC coverage is split between the College GameDay set erected on 2nd Avenue and Broadway and a rooftop set atop the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, where Roberts interviews draftees and celebrity guests. A set at the Rock Bottom patio is being used for portions of the ABC show

“We had GameDay at the Draft last year, but we ramped it up quite a bit this year,” says Bob Braunlich, VP, remote production operations, ESPN. “ESPN’s Draft show is more about the picks, the stats, and who’s left on the board. Our show on the GameDay side on ABC is supposed to get more into the personal side of things. What’s the player like? What’s his background? I think it’s a nice change-of-pace perspective, and it balances out what we show on ESPN. If you’re a diehard NFL fan and all you want to know is who my team picked or who other teams are picking, you’ve got that choice over on ESPN. We are here to add some color and fun to the night.”

NEP’s EN1 and ND1 are serving an array of ESPN shows for the Draft this week in Nashville.

Inside the compound, the two control rooms inside NEP’s EN1 (A, B, C, and E units) are handling the ESPN Main Stage set and various studio programs; the NEP ND1 (A, B, and C) control room is home to the ABC/College GameDay production. The seven mobile units are tightly integrated, allowing any source from throughout ESPN’s Broadway setup to be accessed from anywhere.

Although ESPN also presented a College GameDay NFL Draft telecast last year in Arlington, TX, this year’s is the first edition in which the two shows functioning as a single fully integrated 1080p production (last year’s College GameDay feed on ESPN2 was produced in 720p)

“We’ve designed this to be as homogeneous as possible, so that any set can work from any truck,” says Carter. “Last year, the Gameday show came along a bit later [in the planning process], so the two shows were a lot more independent. We shared some resources, of course, but we were primarily separate [productions]. This year though, right from the beginning, we knew this was going to be the size and scope of the show, so we were all working on the same project together. We’ve been working and prepping as if it’s one giant show, even though it’s on two separate networks, and that’s been a big help.”

ESPN is using its patio set at Rock Bottom Brewery for its Draft coverage on ABC and Get Up morning show.

ESPN has also brought in its full slate of signature studio shows to Nashville. Get Up is using the Rock Bottom patio set Thursday and Friday. Across the Cumberland River, ESPN’s set at the NFL Experience inside Nissan Stadium is home to Golic and Wingo, First Take, and The Stephen A. Smith Show, as well as the On the Clock live-streaming Twitter show during the Draft. A Mobile TV Group truck is onsite serving the set at Nissan Stadium.

Headlining ESPN’s 60-plus cameras in Nashville is a SupraCam point-to-point aerial system running more than 1,000 ft. down Broadway from 5th Ave. into the Main Stage on 1st Ave. ESPN also has a JITACam (jib in the air) at its disposal on the Main Stage.

The GameDay set has plenty of Nashville aesthetic at the NFL Draft.

“The main reason for the JITA is that our set area is too small to fit a full-sized jib,” says Carter. “We’re going to have a small jib on the set, but we still want to be able to have those big sweeping shots, and the JITA is going to be perfect for that.”

BSI is providing ESPN/ABC with several RF cameras: a MōVI rig, Steadicam, and two handhelds (plus RF connectivity for the SupraCam). A dozen robos are on hand from Fletcher, including several positioned throughout Lower Broadway and on the Main Stage. ESPN has also trotted out Wingvision and the Goodyear Blimp to provide aerial shots of the festivities (NFL Network is sharing the feed).

“Now that we move to a new city every year, we start with a blank piece of paper,” says Carter. “Years ago at Radio City Music Hall, it was pretty much the same year in, year out. It’s amazing how much we change from year to year. My first draft was 2003, and we did it with two trucks at the theater at Madison Square Garden. Now it has become one of our biggest and most complex shows of the year. We’re pretty proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here.”

ESPN’s Seth Markman at the Rock Bottom rooftop set, which Robin Roberts is calling home during the NFL Draft in Nashville

Of course, no ESPN Draft telecast would be complete without a stockpile of player highlights, graphics, and features. This year, ESPN has produced a total of 1,000 production elements, including 600+ player highlight packages, 100+ player personality bumps, 100+ NFL team graphics, 50+ NFL team edits, 50+ storytelling vignettes, and 25 “sense of place” bumps with local Nashville artists.

“The elements this year are just amazing, especially the open to the show, which is so powerful,” says ESPN VP, Production, Seth Markman. “Our team puts in an insane amount of time and comes out with 600-700 of these highlights. Every single one is phenomenal. There’s nothing better than the ESPN Draft highlights; I remember growing up myself and watching ESPN broadcast the Draft and thinking how great their highlights were. I think we’ve really set the standard, but we raise it every year.”

CLICK HERE to check out all of SVG’s 2019 NFL Draft coverage from Nashville.