MLB Network To Air Draft Combine Live On Friday
MLB Network is making a major effort to turn Friday’s all-day MLB draft combine coverage into a tent-pole event for the network.
In addition to covering other aspects of the combine, which began on June 21 and runs through June 28th, the network will be on air live from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Friday (June 25), covering Friday’s workouts (batting practice, infield and outfield drills and mound time for pitchers) with seven on-air hosts/analysts in addition to a bevy of ex-players, coaches and front office officials on the field, some of whom will also contribute to the coverage. There will be analytical data, player interviews and wall-to-wall coverage.
“We’re really excited. We’ve always talked about having an event like this. This is the start of our draft coverage,” said MLB Network coordinating producer Marc Weiner. “We wanted to set it up and take the viewers behind the curtain of what’s going to happen here. We’ll show them the stuff at the convention center (where agility drills and meetings with teams will take place). And we’ll show them the on-field aspect of the players working out, what a pro style workout looks like.”
MLB Network will have a high-end drone camera covering the event. Its Speed Cam can track and keep up with runners. The depth-of-field handheld video cameras that have quickly become a coveted feature of live broadcasts will be very apparent.
So why the massive effort to cover what is in essence a series of workouts with no actual games? This is where a sports league and the network it owns and runs end up in a very symbiotic relationship. Major League Baseball wants the MLB draft combine to be a success because it needs top draft prospects to attend if its newest invention is going to be a successful long-term endeavor.
To get draft prospects to buy into coming to North Carolina for the combine weeks before the draft, the event needs to be seen as potentially boosting their draft stock (some agents are worried that for higher-profile prospects it carries more risk of hurting a player’s stock) or it needs to be something that is such a fixture of the draft season that most players will attend whether they work out or not.
MLB has shown flexibility in what it asks of attendees, which helped boost the number of potential draft picks who agreed to attend. Some pitchers will throw, some won’t. Some hitters will work out, some won’t. But the names of the prospects who are attending ended up being a reasonably impressive list of potential draftees. For a new event, that’s a significant start.
And the MLB Network is helping promote the event for the public. Having the MLB Network produce eyeballs for the event to demonstrate the significance of it is very helpful for MLB. But it’s also very helpful for MLB Network.
The two have worked together on the scheduling of Friday’s workouts—both MLB and the network want to make sure that the timing of events fit well into the broadcast schedule—and no one wants the best batting practice of the day to take place during a commercial break.
“It’s a league event. They came to us and said ‘you tell us what you need to make it a good television event,’ ” Weiner said. “They have been very open to setting the schedule for the day. Setting every hitting drill so we don’t miss it. Minute by minute it is set up. Infield drills. Baserunning drills. When outfielders come in. When pitchers throw on the mound. It’s been a good effort of going back and forth.”
The NFL Network found that the NFL Combine went from being a behind-the-scenes event purely held for NFL scouting departments to an event that draws hundreds of thousands of viewers every year (and eventually became an event that was simulcast on network TV).
So yes, there is evidence that fans of a sport will watch players run, jump and throw, even if there isn’t a game attached to it.
Friday is potentially a first in what could become a yearly fixture in the draft calendar. And if it goes well, it also could become a significant event on MLB Network’s schedule as well—even if the combine of 2031 may look very different than this initial version.
“It’s exciting to work on a project like this. It’s a blank slate,” said Marc Caiafa, MLB Network senior vice president of production. "You know things will happen that you will have to make an adjustment for next year. Next year will look different than this year."