Expanding its NFL coverage, Fox will broadcast draft

Will televise at least first through third rounds, sources say
Derek Barnett is selected by the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFL draft in April 2017.
Derek Barnett is selected by the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFL draft in April 2017.

Fox is going all-in on the NFL, and for the first time this year will televise the NFL draft, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plans. Fox and the NFL Network will team up for a joint production, mixing talent from both networks on a co-branded broadcast. One feed will appear on both networks, the people said.

Fox will televise the first round on Thursday, April 26, and the second and third rounds on Friday, April 27, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. It is unclear whether Fox will televise the last four rounds of the draft on April 28.

ESPN, which has broadcast the draft each year since 1980, will continue to do so. Since 2006, both ESPN and the NFL Network have broadcast separate productions of the draft. Last year, 6.7 million viewers watched ESPN’s coverage of the first round, while 2.5 million watched on the NFL Network.

The NFL, Fox and ESPN declined to comment. News of Fox televising the draft was first reported by ProFootballTalk.

Last month, the NFL announced that Fox had won the rights to broadcast 11 games of “Thursday Night Football” for the next five seasons. The rights to televise the draft were part of that package, and according to SportsBusinessJournal, Fox will televise the draft for the next five years.

In December, the Walt Disney Co. — which owns 80 percent of ESPN — agreed to pay $52.4 billion to buy most of 21st Century Fox’s assets, including its 22 regional sports networks, pending regulatory approval. The slimmed-down company that remains will include Fox, Fox Sports, Fox News and a few other channels, and will focus on live programming such as sports and news.

Despite television ratings for the NFL having fallen 19 percent over the past two seasons, Fox has decided to make the league a cornerstone of its programming. In addition to winning the rights to “Thursday Night Football” and the NFL draft, the network might soon be televising an additional playoff game as well.

After being held in New York City for 50 years, the NFL has treated the draft as a traveling circus since 2015, setting up shop in different cities with all manner of fan activities surrounding the actual picks. Last year a reported 70,000 people showed up to the first round in Philadelphia, and this year’s draft is poised to be even bigger, as it will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

The draft has evolved into the biggest event of the NFL offseason, and a bridge from the Super Bowl to the combine to the opening of training camp, in no small part because of the efforts of ESPN.

For decades, the draft was a sleepy meeting of team representatives in a hotel ballroom surrounded by newspaper reporters. But in 1979, Pete Rozelle, then the commissioner of the NFL, teamed with Chet Simmons, the president of ESPN, to televise the draft live. ESPN, then far from the dominant network it is today, was eager for cheap programming to fill time, and turned it into a massive, multiple-day television spectacle.

In the beginning, ESPN didn’t pay to televise the draft. After NFL team owners learned how much ESPN was earning from the draft, they demanded the network cover its cost, and then eventually charged a rights fee to televise it, the way it does with games.

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