Draft Show Is Good, But It Could Be Better
To our friends at Major League Baseball and MLB Network:
We think the television coverage of the baseball draft is good, and the event has made a quantum leap forward over the last decade. But we think things can get better too.
Just for perspective, it's hard to believe that we have gone from fledgling audio coverage on mlb.com to a full-blown television production in less than 10 years.
ESPN deserves credit for getting that started, with their first live broadcast of the draft in 2007. The network had the event for two years before it moved to MLB Network last year.
We can all agree that MLB Network is a better home for the draft than ESPN. That's no knock on ESPN, just the reality that the baseball draft was a small piece of the network's puzzle. Hard to imagine where they would have fit the draft into their offerings this year, with the NBA Finals going on, coverage of every game of the Women's College World Series and the run-up to soccer's World Cup. ESPN's reach is hard to match, but a two-hour broadcast on ESPN2 doesn't exactly maximize that.
MLB Network is treating the draft much more like a major event, which is what it should be. In some ways, though, it's hard for baseball to shed its conference-call roots—which is what the draft still becomes after the first round.
Making Things Better
Here then, a few humble suggestions on how to continue the growth of the draft by improving the MLB Network broadcast:
Get Players There:
We know that MLB has made a huge effort to get players to the MLB Network studios for the draft, with no success other than the appearance of Mike Trout last year. And while he is turning out to be a great prospect, he wasn't generating any excitement from viewers.
Most of the problem, unfortunately, comes from NCAA regulations. MLB can't pay for the players or their families to attend the draft without running afoul of eligibility rules. And because pretty much everyone in the draft at least wants the option of attending or returning to college, that's a big roadblock.
Get fans there:
One of the most enjoyable parts of the NFL draft is listening to the New York fans cheer or boo various picks. Sure, they're morons, but they add some buzz to the proceedings. Hearing some kind of loud reaction to a selection is better than hearing a smattering of half-hearted applause from the assembled dignitaries. And on that note . . .
Get Decision-Makers There:
While it's always a pleasure to see Tommy Lasorda on television, it really makes no sense for him to be there representing the Dodgers in a draft context. Jeff Bagwell is perhaps a bit more relevant representing the Astros, but he still had a "what am I doing here?" look about him in this year's broadcast.
So why not make some executives show up? Wouldn't it be more compelling to see a general manager or scouting director make each draft selection, rather than Bud Selig? You would also have a wealth of post-pick interview possibilities, rather than talking to a few random old-timers and players in the Boras Corp. draft bunker.
Get More Expert Commentary:
We understand the draft broadcast has to walk a fine line, giving passionate fans what they want while trying to draw in more casual fans who aren't even sure how the draft works. So letting BA's Jim Callis and MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo wax on about draft prospects for minutes on end isn't in the cards.
But they were used so sparingly this year that they never got into a good rhythm, trying to jam as much information as they could into their limited exposure. A better way to integrate them into the broadcast would be to go to them more before a pick, asking them who they project to go there and why. As it stands now, it seemed they were only used when the main panel didn't know anything about a player who was picked.
We do like the main panel as currently constituted. Greg Amsinger was a good traffic cop and knew the top guys, while Harold Reynolds, Peter Gammons and John Hart bring enthusiasm for the event and had a good rapport. We'd like to see them be a little more critical of picks that they don't like, but that's a relatively minor quibble.
To make a lot of the changes we're talking about, however, will require changes to the draft itself. To get more players to the draft, maybe you have to require players to declare for the draft as they do in football and basketball. Dealing with the NCAA on the agent/adviser question is getting stickier every year, so that needs to be considered anyway.
Maybe you could get more players and executives there if the draft were later in the calendar as well—not to mention media members, who struggle to cover the draft while trying to cover regular season games at the same time.
We keep hearing that the draft will be a big deal in the new labor agreement, coming after the 2011 season, and we hope that's true. If the draft improves, so will the broadcast. And that's good for all of us.