The 2020 virtual NFL draft starts tomorrow online bringing with it, good and bad sports tech. The best of the good is the fact that this is streaming live sports content. Is the draft considered an actual live sport? That is debatable but since coronavirus has shut down most non-essential businesses at least until this Friday here in Georgia and other states, the National Football League decided to hold their draft over the web weeks ago using Microsoft Teams collaboration as the key technology component. Respectful, stay at home, social distancing fans and those that are not, are all looking forward to this live sporting event probably more than getting a fresh haircut. Another good story is the three-day, virtual Draft-A-Thon COVID-19 relief fundraiser for six charities and millions of people in need. The worst of the bad is video conferencing that is wrought with potential issues mostly because of bandwidth. I have done my share of video conferences homeschooling my son with his DeKalb county public school teachers and classmates the past five weeks and believe me, if you have not participated in one, it is like a wild, wild west in terms of connectivity, communication protocol and IT issues. Because of our Comcast cable, dropped video calls are a regularity because we haven’t paid for the upgraded top tier of internet speed as most carriers are throttling heavy video using accounts like us since so many clients are at home streaming video day and night. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will once again announce every first round pick on Thursday, only instead of being in Las Vegas, the new home of the Raiders and where the draft was originally scheduled, he will be located in his Bronxville, New York basement announcing each pick through Microsoft Teams video conferencing. I have also used the Zoom platform during my son’s ABA therapy sessions and enjoyed the Teams experience much more than Zoom’s. The 2020 virtual NFL draft can be viewed or listened to on ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio, NFL Network, and NFL App, on April 23 starting at 8 pm EST.
Microsoft Teams, ABC, ESPN, and NFLN Draft
With the emphasis on tech, you could get away with calling this the Microsoft and Disney NFL Draft rather than saying NFL Draft presented by Wilson Football, the actual presenting sponsor.
Expect to see a ton of Microsoft technologies and Surface digital devices throughout the draft whether that be in front of a league official, general manager or scout all connected to Microsoft Servers.
Picks with be submitted though Microsoft Teams App by the 32 GM’s and Head Coaches respectively, all stationed at home like Goodell. Team IT department personnel installed cameras in the houses of executives and coaching staff so TV viewers can get in on the real-time action as well as to comply with stay at home compliance.
The seven round draft will be shown on ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network, April 23-25 making it the second consecutive year which The Walt Disney Company is presenting a multi-network presentation for the NFL.
Look for ESPN and NFLN to combine for a single, seamless feed showing on both networks originating from Bristol, Connecticut. ABC TV is presenting the first 3 rounds on prime-time television featuring their own content then plans to simulcast rounds 4-7 from the co-ESPN/NFLN telecast. Content will be centered around feel good feature stories, the draftees draft journey and their supportive family members. The broadcast team consists of Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer and Maria Taylor as hosts while NFL experts Todd McShay, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and David Pollack provide analysis. Tom Rinaldi is showcasing the pre-taped features.
Safety is of utmost importance during the draft which is definitely good so ESPN host’s Trey Wingo and Suzy Kolber, plus a few commentators like Mel Kiper Jr. are delivering the American spectacle from in-studio run by a skeleton crew of 7 all wearing masks rather than the normal crew size of 15. Louis Riddick and Booger MacFarland (demoted off of MNF) will add their perspectives from home.
The NFLN crew of host Rich Eisen, along with commentators Michael Irvin, Kurt Warner and Daniel Jeremiah are said to be coronavirus free.
Two separate control rooms are set up to ensure social distancing adherence. The majority of expert analysts and reporters normally stationed at the 32 team headquarters are working from their home studios like so many of the US workforce the past five weeks or more.
Usually ESPN uses 10 remote locations for the draft however as many as 180 feeds will be in operation making this a bad problem waiting to happen. Draft insider Adam Schefter and guru Chris Mortensen join 7 other ESPN team reporters.
Schedule (April 23-25):
— Thurs, April 23 (8-11:30 p.m. ET): NFL Draft Rd 1 — ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio
— Fri, April 24 (7-11:30 p.m.), NFL Draft Rds 2 and 3 — ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio
— Sat, April 25 (12-7 p.m.) NFL Draft, Rds 4 thru 7 — ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio
Coinciding with the Thursday draft is Draft-A-Thon on social channels. This unprecedented livestream aims to raise money for COVID-19 relief efforts by American Red Cross, CDC Foundation’s All of Us: Combat Coronavirus Campaign, Feeding America, Meals in Wheels America, Salvation Army and United Way, while supporting healthcare workers and first responders. The unique event features hosts Rich Eisen and Deion Sanders, special guest Kevin Hart, and a host of NFL stars, athletes and musicians, in addition to a mainstream esports gamer but not a Madden 21 player.
Donate through the NFL.com/RELIEF website now or use the text-to-donate option. This fan experience is live on the social and digital platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, Yahoo Sports, and YouTube, and on the official NFL Surface tablet and connected TVs.
The NFL Auction at NFL.com/auction allows the public to bid on autographed NFL items and exclusive packages in support of COVID-19 relief. The NFL states they do not retain any profits from the sale of these auction items or experiences. All of these charitable contributions are donated to the NFL’s nonprofit partners.
More Good and Bad Sports Tech
One NFL coach spent a reported $10,000 on upgrading his wi-fi connection and installing various technologies such as discs in the ceiling to make sure he stays connected no matter what part of the house they happen to be in. I consider this bad since he mostly likely overspent and it is certain he will write it nearly all off as a tax break. You can bet all your money that it was not Seattle Seahawks HC Pete Carroll as he probably has local Microsoft techies assisting him with any infrastructure, hardware and software needs for free.
A separate team line will be in operation to take calls from multiple teams wanting to discuss a trade. In total, three call centers are being used for draft prospects, for coaches and executives, and the third for fans. League officials are said to have contacted wireless providers to request extra bandwidth to ensure three days of connectivity.
Draft prospects, GM’s and head coaches all got special league kits for broadcast appearance purposes.
Use the NFL.com track tracker is you cannot stream the draft.
Sports Techie, the NFL partnered with Microsoft Teams to use it as a unifying component for calls, web chats, virtual meetings and doc collaborations. This single hub works securely over Windows, Mac, iOS and the Android platforms creating a teamwork like work flow designed to keep things more ‘uniform and consistent’. Never have these tools been more needed than the 2020 virtual draft.
A couple of grey areas still exist. First, it will be interesting to see how league policy regarding the networks not tipping off picks is monitored and then enforced. Over 180 feeds is tough to monitor in real-time per 10 minute first round pick and even shorter time frames in the latter rounds. Next, will there be a virtual boo when Goodall announces each pick because there should be. Imagine all the fans that would hit it like they would during a Trump COVID-19 press conference. BOOOOOOO!
Enjoy the mostly good sports tech and some bad of the 2020 virtual NFL draft, it should break streaming records.
See you later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!
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