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Party and Production On! Inside ESPN’s Multi-Platform Presentation Of The 2022 NFL Draft Live From Las Vegas

After the pandemic delayed Las Vegas' draft showcase two years, the stars are finally out on The Strip; producers of ESPN and ABC's telecasts discuss storytelling learnings and approaches this week

Stars of ABC's "American Idol" and other Las Vegas-connected celebrities are among those featured in ESPN's NFL Draft coverage promos (Illustration: Rich Arden/ESPN)

Thursday, the famed Las Vegas Strip will be teeming with an estimated 650,000 people enjoying, in-person, the spectacle that is the 2022 NFL Draft.

Millions more will be watching The Walt Disney Company’s three-day, 15-hour live presentation across various linear and digital platforms – including ESPN and ABC – beginning Thursday night (8 ET).

It’s a party and production more than two years in the making.

Las Vegas was the original site for the 2020 NFL Draft (April 23-25) before COVID-19 restrictions prohibited mass gatherings beginning that March. The pandemic postponed Las Vegas’ hosting duties for two years; Cleveland already was designated the 2021 host.

ESPN, Disney and the NFL’s collaborative efforts produced the 2020 NFL Draft as scheduled. Buoyed by the success of ESPN’s remote NBA studio shows and the WNBA Draft earlier that month, ESPN’s NFL Draft production teams tackled an even larger-scaled assignment with fervor from remote locations.

“It’s one of my proudest draft moments just because of the time frame,” said Bryan Ryder, producer of ESPN’s NFL Draft presentation then and this week. “We had planned a bunch for Vegas, and then – six weeks out – this massive shift. And it had never been done that way before – and it was going to originate from [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell’s basement, where the picks would be announced.”

2022 Renderings Of ESPN NFL Draft Sets And Venues In Las Vegas

This week, in earnest, Las Vegas welcomes the NFL Draft.  ESPN and ABC sets will feature  the NFL Theatre adjacent to Caesars Forum to The Beer Park at the Paris Hotel among other locations.

In late January 2020 - nearly two months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports - ESPN's NFL Live previewed the planned NFL Draft's red carpet renderings for Las Vegas

For the fourth consecutive year, Ryder and College GameDay producer Jim Gaiero oversee ESPN and ABC’s NFL Draft productions, respectively. They discussed their memories of 2020 and approaches to 2022 with Front Row.

 What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from the 2020 work-from-home-oriented NFL Draft production that applies to this year’s production?

 Ryder: The 2020 work-from-home model was in its infancy. No one had done anything of this magnitude before.  It was essential for us to pull this off, and we did. We had close to 600 feeds from players, teams, and announcers in all the various sites across the country.

Fast forward two years later, we continue to use some of those aspects from the work from home model. It’s just that the technology is better.

Gaiero:  It taught us to be more nimble and be more creative with some of our executions.  For example, we were able to get more player reactions from home as well as interviews from those players, something that hadn’t been done before.

What did you glean from ESPN’s production of the NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas that might apply to your production?

Ryder:  You want to create that sense of place. We all remember Nashville [2019 NFL Draft site]. The Nashville draft – a lot of people remember Nashville as, “This is crazy. Look at all the people in the streets, up and down the boulevard”. . . The players and the teams will always be central to the draft. But [in Las Vegas] we’ve got this amazing backdrop.

Gaiero: The NHL All-Star Game really showed how you can incorporate a special place like Vegas into your total presentation.  The city itself is a character in our broadcast.

How often are the ESPN and ABC production teams in contact with each other before and during the telecasts?  

 Ryder: We’re constantly in communication with them. We’re in lockstep all the way. But when the show starts, their draft show is more about personalizing, humanizing, analyzing. They’ll get into the more off-the-ball stories, where we’ll keep it the more traditional X’s-and-O’s.

 Gaiero: Bryan and I were friends beforehand and we talk or text almost daily during the draft process. Sometimes we simply talk players or teams or even potential landing spots for players.  Other times, we talk logistics like getting on the air or syncing up for certain moments.  But the most important thing we do is share our resources.  And, during the meetings, we present a team- first, unified culture.  There’s no ESPN versus ABC.  We’re all on the NFL Draft together and we all love it.

"Stars Know Stats" And More: Previewing Some ABC, Marvel NFL Draft Integrations

Joelle Downes, senior director of ESPN’s Content Integration and Synergy Strategy and Solutions, provides highlights of how ESPN’s NFL Draft presentation and other Disney company platforms will intersect this week:

Broadcast Integrations
Segments from ABC shows including Abbott Elementary, The Wonder Years, Holey Moley, and The Rookie
“Stars Know Stats” promotion featuring piece featuring American Idol’s Katy Perry, Ryan Seacrest, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie

Good Morning America coverage on Thursday and Friday morning with reports coming from the NFL Draft main stage.

Marvel

ESPN and Marvel Entertainment will unveil custom comic book covers depicting Draft four prospects—Aidan Hutchinson, Ikem Ekwomu, Malik Willis, Matt Araiza. A Spanish version featuring Matt Araiza will also debut on ESPN Deportes. 

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