There’s a three-month period between the conclusion of the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft that takes a certain level of fanaticism to survive for a football fan. Draft analysis and free agency prognostication are paramount aspects of satiating the year-round fervor for football of your die-hard fans, but for the casual fan it can be hard to stay interested when the bulk of the action takes place behind closed doors rather than on the field.
However, even the casual fan understands the importance of the NFL Draft (the 2014 NFL Draft is now just five weeks away) and the event itself has become a significant viewing experience.
That being said, a lot of you are doing it wrong. That’s because you’re watching ESPN and not NFL Network.
During the 2013 NFL Draft, 6.2 million people tuned into ESPN’s coverage of the First Round of the draft, while only 1.5 million watched the NFL Network’s broadcast. Now, obviously ESPN’s status as The Worldwide Leader In Sports gives it clout among casual fans and the fact that they became the first to broadcast the NFL Draft in 1980 essentially gives them squatter’s rights.
However, since the NFL Network launched in 2003 giving the league a 24/7 outlet, they’ve been the most comprehensive source for NFL coverage on the airwaves. In 2006, when they began their own coverage of the NFL Draft, they slowly began carving into ESPN’s draft viewership.
But, the numbers still heavily favor ESPN.
Beyond the fact that ESPN is the established name in draft coverage, ESPN is still in more homes than the NFL Network, but that fact in and of itself doesn’t entirely explain the disparity. Especially when you consider that NFL Network’s talent is better and their coverage is generally more complete.
ESPN’s influence is vast, and I’m not sure that we’ll ever see NFL Network’s draft coverage surpass ESPN’s in terms of viewership, but, the fact remains, if you want your 2014 NFL Draft viewing experience to be more enjoyable, you should be watching the NFL Network.
Sure, both networks air the picks as they happen. There’s a ticker at the bottom that let’s you get all caught up if you’ve missed something, and both networks will pepper you with analysis, original reporting and profiles of prospects. However, there’s one clear place where NFL Network stands above ESPN, and it’s probably the most critical component of the experience: The Host.
Chris Berman has anchored ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage since 1985, and the 2014 NFL Draft will be the 30th of his esteemed career. His time at ESPN has given him emeritus status and until he decides it’s time to hand over the reins, he’ll continue to moor ESPN’s draft coverage.
That, in large part, is why ESPN has taken a back seat (in terms of quality) to the NFL Network and it’s host, Rich Eisen.
Berman’s on-air persona is polarizing. Some people associate his boisterousness with passion, others with useless grandiosity, but, regardless of which side of the comb-over you come down upon, there’s an issue with how Berman handles the draft in relation to Eisen.
Even if you’re an unabashed Chris Berman fan, the simple fact of the matter is that his skill-set as a host doesn’t lend itself well to NFL Draft coverage. Berman is a guy who can take his energy and inflect it upon his panel. This raises the overall energy of the dais and creates headway for the kind of spirited discussion ESPN seems so intent on embracing.
However, the constraints of the draft aren’t really conducive to debate. There’s a constantly running clock, intermittent picks and a wealth of information viewers are constantly clamoring for. So, while there may be time for debate in the weeks and months leading up to and following the draft, there isn’t much time for “embracing debate” in the moment.
That’s why draft coverage lends itself to a host who favors concision, has the ability to pivot at a moment’s notice and has the intellect to vamp intelligibly (not Berman’s strong suit) to fill air time while waiting on an announcement of a trade or a pick. That’s Rich Eisen.
So, while the rest of the coverage plays similarly for both ESPN and NFL Network–the panel of analysts offering up insight in the way of personal experience or observation, the film study, the stats, the original reporting of the anointed NFL Insiders, etc.–what sets one apart from the other is the host’s ability to get into and out of what truly matters:
Who your team picked and why they picked them.
So, whether you’re a casual fan or a fanatic, when you sit down in five weeks to watch the 2014 NFL Draft, do yourself a favor. Watch the NFL Network. Not ESPN.
You’ll be a better–read “more informed”–fan for it.