Trey Wingo, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay

Trey Wingo, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay

Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images

Inside ESPN’s big plans for Philly’s outdoor NFL Draft (Q&A)

Host Trey Wingo and producer Seth Markman on ESPN’s plans for the Parkway, from Eagles trades to the weather to cheesesteaks.

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Philly is making a really big deal about the 200,000 thousand (or so) people who will line the Ben Franklin Parkway for the NFL Draft. But for the NFL and its broadcast partners — ESPN and in-house NFL Network — the draft on TV is big business. Just on ESPN, the first round of the NFL Draft pulled in more than six million viewers last season, and that was with an incredibly anticlimactic first two picks. This year, there’s a ton of drama in the first round, coupled with the allure of the draft being actually live, outdoors, with fans going crazy for every pick and the Rocky steps and all that Philly-related merriment.

So how will TV capture the moment? We asked.

ESPN’s NFL host Trey Wingo and Senior Coordinating Producer for NFL studio production Seth Markman shared some insight on how the Worldwide Leader plans to cover Philly’s NFL Draft.

‘We’re in Philly for the draft,’ not ‘the draft is in Philly’

Draft organizers are getting the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Draft organizers are getting the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

This isn’t the first draft in Philly (heck, the first ever draft was in Philly) but it is a big deal that it’s here. How big of a deal, and how much of the TV production will be about Philly?

Wingo: The star of the show is the draft, there’s no question about that. But all of our in-bumps and out-bumps and all of the things we’ve done leading up to the draft on all our coverage has been shots of Philadelphia — you know, the Rocky statue, the Art Museum, the Liberty Bell. Philly will be a theme of everything that we do, but it will be ‘we’re in Philly for the draft,’ it’s not going to be, ‘the draft is in Philly.’

Markman: We’re going to do our best, and we always do, and Trey is right, whether it’s bumpers — we call them ‘sense of place’ things — different elements throughout the three days that show the city. The heart of what we’re there for is to cover the draft, and so you’ve got to…we’re always going to make it a big deal that we’re in Philadelphia, but once the thing is going and the commissioner is up at the podium making the pick, I don’t know that people are going to be like ‘oh look at that, they’re in Philadelphia.’

You know, he’s not standing next to the Liberty Bell making the picks. I know he’s on the Rocky steps and that’s exciting for a lot of people. I think that’s still going to be a cool look and when we have blimp shots that show the whole scene you’re going to say ‘wow that’s a really cool scene’ with the Art Museum, the steps, the look of the draft on there, but you know, once you tent it up and put the seats in and the tables, there will be times it’ll be hard to say, ‘this is Philadelphia.’

But that’s our job to make sure that we’re representing. Whenever we go to a city, whether it’s Super Bowl or draft or NBA Final, whatever it is, that’s our number one goal, wherever it is: Let’s show off the city. When people are flipping channels, it should be obvious where we are. That’s a challenge for us.

The Sam Bradford Effect

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

At the time the NFL announced the draft was coming to Philly, the Eagles didn’t have a first round pick, but thanks to some smart wheeling-and-dealing by GM Howie Roseman, the Birds snagged the 14th-overall pick. That made TV happy.

Wingo: What’s interesting for me is there was a time when the draft was coming to Philly where they didn’t have a first-round pick until Howie Roseman pulled off the trade for Sam Bradford. I’ve had people in Philly ask me, ‘Do the Eagles have to make a splash?’ They kind of made the splash last year when they made the trade to go up and get Carson Wentz. I don’t think this is about splash. I think this is about building, finding the right things around the guy you moved up to get.

Markman: I love the unknown. I love the unknown. I think as much as it would frustrate Eagles fans…As long as they don’t trade out of the first round, that would be bad. We don’t want them to not have a first round pick. That was great when they got the first round pick back for Sam Bradford. That was huge for us. Huge for us.

‘I don’t think there’s any way that the Eagles can mess this up…’

Howie Roseman spoke on Wednesday. He didn't say much.

Howie Roseman

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, hear me out. There is a lot of talent in this year’s draft, so much that the Eagles might be smart to trade back. Only…that could lead to some unruly fans on the Parkway. I asked both Wingo and Markman about a hot (read: drunk) crowd that could turn ugly.

Will there be boos?

Wingo: I’m sure that’s going to be part of it if fans are unhappy with how things go. That’s sort of standard operating procedure in Philadelphia, which is what makes them so great.

To me, I don’t think there is a way they can really go wrong here, because they have a lot of needs and they have a lot of positional needs that are strong in this draft, whether it’s cornerback or wide receiver or linebacking help. The only thing this draft doesn’t really have a lot of is good offensive line talent — so we say, and three years from now, who knows, there could be five guys who turn out to be great.

I don’t think there’s any way that the Eagles can mess this up unless they go completely off the charts, which I don’t think they’re going to. There is going to be a quality player for them. To your point about if there are six corners, why draft one at No. 14? Everybody sees things differently, man. I guarantee you there are some people who are saying ‘we love Lattimore, he’s the best corner in the draft’ or ‘we love Gareon Conley, the other kid out of Ohio St.’ or ‘what about Quincy Wilson?’

There’s always going to be one guy who somebody has rated over everybody else and if that guy’s available, just take him. You just have to have a conviction of your board. When you look at the board and you have a different feeling of what the board tells you, that’s how teams get in trouble.

Markman: I don’t know, I think when the Eagles are on the clock the place is going to be electric. If they trade back a few slots, that will give us even more drama for a little bit later.

I think it’s a little overrated to talk about Philadelphia fans behavior and how they’re going to be. They’re enthusiastic.

‘The draft is the only true reality show on television.’

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft
Chuck Anderson-USA TODAY Sports

As television shows go, knowing what’s coming is lame. That’s why this first round could be great, and even though the Eagles don’t pick until the middle of the round, fans’ ability to antagonize other fanbases is going to be unreal to watch, especially if the Browns make some questionable moves.

The ESPN tandem seemed to agree.

Wingo: First of all, from our perspective the fact that there’s uncertainty is great. Everyone knew last year it was going to be Goff, Wentz first to an almost to a 95-percent certainty. The fact that there’s uncertainty and, let’s be honest, the fact that it’s Cleveland, which has not had the best track record the last four times they had two first round picks, that makes it very interesting for us, as broadcasters.

So that adds to the excitement of what may happen because they’ll be so many things at play.

Look, I say this all the time, but the draft is the only true reality show on television. There is no script. Nobody knows what’s going to happen and we have to completely react to whatever it is. That’s what makes it the most fun for me.

Markman: There are going to be a lot of different fans from different fan bases too there too. Look, I like trades. I like unknown. I like surprise picks. Anything that makes the crowd ooh and ahh a little bit, that’s good for us.

‘I’m looking forward to some cheesesteaks’

NFL: Preaseason-New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Food is a big part of Philly, and it will be a big part of the draft coverage as well. I felt contractually obligated to ask if they were going to be eating cheesesteaks on the set during the draft, or if Markman would be willing to surprise Wingo with a giant cheesesteak on Saturday afternoon.

Wingo: I’m always going to take whatever the town is willing to offer. We had a bunch of good stuff, some deep dish came in Chicago last year. I’m looking forward to some cheesesteaks. But, you know, those cheesesteaks sometimes come with a little bite and the last thing you want is to have that cheesesteak bite back at you when you’re trying to talk for three hours.

I may nibble. I may nibble, just to get the flavor, but I don’t think I’m going to fully engulf the sandwich, because there are repercussions that would be bad for someone who has to be on TV for four hours.

Markman: That’s a great idea. That’s funny. We’ll consider that one. We have to consider that. Then it’s the debate about Pat’s or Geno’s. I like Tony Luke’s better, myself.

‘Just to get the overall juice from the crowd was really great.’

NFL: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

This is the third year in a row the draft will be in part outdoors and away from New York, where it was held for decades. We spoke about the challenges of doing the event outside in new setting, but also how that can revitalize the event, and the TV viewing.

Wingo: The best thing about being in Chicago the last couple of years was just seeing how many people were excited about just being a part of it. Just to get the overall juice from the crowd was really great. They’re expecting almost twice as many people in Philadelphia than they had in Chicago — especially with the first round being outdoors. The last two years in Chicago the first two days were inside the theater and they had the thing they called Selection Square in Grant Park, but this whole thing is outside. I think that’s going to be a lot of fun.

Downside, hopefully the weather holds, but looking at the forecast it looks like it’s going to be okay. Last year, Saturday in Chicago was awful. It was 39 degrees, wind and sideways rain. I don’t care who you are, that no fun for anybody. It was so bad we actually had to move indoors.

Markman: Each year is different now that it’s going to move around a little bit. In New York in Radio City we knew every little part of that building. Now, this is our first time in this venue, obviously. We will have plenty of rehearsal time Wednesday and Thursday to get a good sense of where everything is — we have over 20 cameras out there — to get the best angles and where people are going to be.

We’re not looking to be too rehearsed from a live event standpoint. It’s going to be different. We like to be prepared, and we will be.

Wingo: I’m really looking forward to the crowd. I think it’s going to be great. They’re going to be really into it, and that makes the whole experience a lot more fun.

‘Good lord I’ve never wanted meteorologists to be more correct.’

Chicago's Selection Square set up, as part of Draft Town.

Chicago's Selection Square set up, as part of Draft Town.

Wikimedia Commons

Outside in Philly in April. This is a terrible idea, as bad as Chicago. And the NFL might just end up getting lucky here. I asked about the weather, and how a little rain or wind might compared to last year in Chicago.

Wingo: First of all, it’s different than any other show because nobody knows what’s going to happen. You know, in any other situation where you may be outside you have a rundown, you toss to this feature, you do this and that — we have no idea, because it all depends on who is being taken. The idea that we have some sort of plan to begin with…we have thoughts on what we want to do when things happen, but we have no idea when that’ll happen.

And then, literally, Louis Riddick played football in Cleveland and I think a couple other places where there was cold weather, and he was freezing. We had blankets, we had heaters, we had hand warmers. You’re trying to enunciate — some of these names are not very easy — and your lips are freezing and you’re being pelted with sideways rain. It was one of the more difficult things in terms of executing the job that I’ve done in 20 years here.

Trey Wingo

Trey Wingo

Nick Caito / ESPN Images

Markman: I think like last year it’s just colder outside. First of all there’s something said for when you’re not prepared for that cold and you get it. It reminds me of when you go to a World Series game and it’s October in New York or Philadelphia and people are just freezing. Is it really that cold? If you go to a football game in January and it’s 40 degrees people would be in short sleeves.

I think the amount of time is unusual. For us on the draft Saturday we were outside for seven or eight hours. That’s a long time to be sitting outside. In Philadelphia the good thing is that, this is a…sort of a hybrid inside-outside situation. Yes, it’s technically outside, but there’s a tent, there’s heaters. The only thing that could really wreck this is some sort of enormous rain storm, lightning, sideways rain, high winds things like that.

Wingo: They said something about [a contingency plan] in one of the meetings. It didn’t sound like it was that great, so we’re hoping that doesn’t happen. So there is a contingency in case there is massive weather. But from everything we’ve seen, and good lord I’ve never wanted meteorologists to be more correct, it looks like Thursday and Friday are going to be great. It looks like there may be some AM showers on Saturday and the draft starts at noon, so that’s fine.

Markman: Even if it was slightly chilly and a light rain, it’s not like the people going to the draft would get wet. It’s enclosed to some degree. I think it’s a little overrated to talk about this ‘oh my god this is the first outdoor draft.’ Yes, it technically is, but it’s not like we’re out on Lincoln Financial Field out on the grass.

‘I’m not in the business of trying to piss off our audience’

If you’re watching the draft on TV you’ll notice (among the cheesesteaks and Rocky references) the fact that picks are sometimes announced on Twitter before they’re announced on TV. I asked Markman about the process of competing with social media.

Markman: The thing that we decide a couple of years ago, it’s really weird and I understand it goes against the journalistic ideal that we were all brought up with and we learn, but we made a decision and this was based on fan feedback, and it’s consistent for us, the majority of our fans — the overwhelming majority of our fans — asked us to do the draft as much as a live event as we can without giving away any of the picks, if you will. That went for Twitter. Maybe it’ll change at some point. Sometimes the draft gets a little backed up…and we just kept hearing over and over again just how overwhelming the fans of teams wanted to hear their pick from the commissioner.

I was actually surprised at the numbers, to be honest with you. If it was different, I think we would make a different decision these days. It’s never changed, their feeling when they sit on the edge of their couch, and it’s like ‘The Philadelphia Eagles select…’ and there’s that pause. You’ve seen it. That’s what they want.

They don’t want it to be Adam Schefter tweeting out the Eagles are going to pick this guy. They think that sucks the drama out of the draft for them.

Yes, it goes against some of our principles. I get it’s not perfect for everybody, but my position is if it’s this overwhelming, I’m not in the business of trying to piss off our audience. There’s so little drama left in the world, we’re going to keep some.

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