The NFL Draft is ready for its 2020 virtual edition tonight, with the three-day event kicking off beginning at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT live on ABC, ESPN, the NFL Network and ESPN Deportes and the networks’ respective online platforms. It will certainly be an oasis in the perpetual 3rd down and 80 situation for American sports fans, who haven’t had much to talk about since the coronavirus pandemic forced the shuttering of pretty much all leagues and events.
Pre-draft coverage tonight begins at 5 PM ET/2 PM PT on NFL Network and 6 PM ET/3 PM PT on ESPN and networks, who will also be streaming the draft event live beginning at 8 PM ET on the league and networks’ various platforms. There will be two broadcasts tonight, both originating from ESPN’s Bristol studios: one via ABC and a second simulcast on ESPN and NFL Network. Subsequent rounds will be held Friday and Saturday simulcast on ESPN and NFL Network.
A rundown of how to watch:
TV: ESPN, ESPN Network, ABC, NFL Network
Online (via authentication): NFL.com/Watch, ESPN.com/Watch, ABC.go.com
Connected devices: Xbox Live, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, PlayStation 4, Roku
Radio: ESPN Radio, SiriusXM, TuneIn, Westwood One
Round 1 kicks off tonight with LSU’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow the presumptive No. 1 pick by the Cincinnati Bengals barring a trade. The real suspense though will likely come from the logistics of the draft, with a three-day in-person extravaganza planned for Las Vegas scrapped due to COVID-19 concerns and replaced by a virtual setup that will see all 32 teams in quarantined war rooms and the entire affair conducted from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s “man cave” basement at his Westchester County, NY home.
Goodell today tweeted the layout for his mock studio, scattered with screens, cameras, lights, Sharpies and tablet computers. The setup includes four total people in the room: Goodell, a person receiving the picks from the teams, an ESPN coordinator and a cameraman. He’ll be announcing picks from a cocktail table in front of his wall of three flat-screen TVs.
Goodell usually MCs the event in front of crowd-packed arenas. Last year in Nashville, a record 600,000 fans attended over the three days. The Round 1 telecast drew a record 6.1 million viewers across NFL, ESPN and ABC and their digital outlets. The full three days drew a total of 47.5 million viewers.
After the Las Vegas draft plans (the locale timed to the Oakland Raiders’ move to Sin City) were scrapped March 16 because of the COVID-19 shutdown, the virtual alternative emerged. Each team has built war rooms in the homes of coaches and general managers, all of which will connect to Goodell’s home setup.
Players meanwhile won’t get that iconic American sports moment: dressed to the hilt, they hear their name announced and walk across the stage to shake hands with Goodell as fans go wild. Instead, key players from Burrow on down were sent cameras to capture reactions and do interviews. Goodell said there were more than 200 remote cameras set up nationwide for the draft.
The NFL Draft continues with Rounds 2-3 on Friday ( PM ET/4 PM PT) and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday (noon ET/9 AM PT).
Simultaneously with the draft, the NFL will be hosting Draft-A-Thon Live, an event to raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts. It is being hosted by NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen and Deion Sanders with special guest Kevin Hart and a slew of players, musicians and celebrities. It will be streaming on NFL.com, the NFL app, and the NFL’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch channels.
As part of the charity efforts, fans will be able to virtually boo Goodell (it’s a draft-day tradition) on social media with the tag @budlight and #BooTheCommish. For each hashtag recorded through Saturday, April 25, the beer maker will donate $1 to NFL Draft-a-Thon up to $500,000.
The NFL remains the only major U.S. sports league that has not yet postponed its regular season, which is scheduled to begin in September. Goodell did not address the current status today in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America.
“The draft has always been about hope,” Goodell did say (watch the interview below). “But this year, with all that’s going on in our society and around the globe, we need more experiences together. We need that ability to look forward and maybe have a distraction or a diversion from all that we’re going through the last couple of months.”