For the first time ever, two different networks will be providing live, primetime coverage of the MLB Draft. Both ESPN and MLB Network will produce their own coverage of this year’s shortened five-round draft, which will take place June 10 and 11. The June 10 coverage will start at 7 p.m. Eastern and cover the first round and Competitive Balance Round A (so the first 37 picks), while June 11’s coverage will start at 5 p.m. Eastern and cover the second through fifth rounds. (ESPN’s Day 1 coverage will air on their main network, but their Day 2 coverage will air on ESPN2.) This also marks the first time since 2008 that ESPN has produced their own coverage of the MLB Draft; they did so in 2007 and 2008 when the draft was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida, which marked the first two years the draft was televised live, but it’s been carried exclusively on MLB Network since then. Here’s more on ESPN’s coverage from their release:
Veteran ESPN baseball commentator Karl Ravech will host ESPN’s coverage of the MLB Draft at ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. studios alongside ESPN MLB Insider and draft expert Kiley McDaniel. Additionally, several ESPN MLB and college baseball commentators will contribute to coverage remotely, including Chris Burke, Jessica Mendoza, Jeff Passan, Eduardo Perez and Kyle Peterson.
ESPN’s MLB Draft coverage highlights to include:
- Cameras with General Manager or select personnel of all 30 MLB Clubs;
- Jessica Mendoza conducts one-on-one interviews with several of the top players available in this year’s event in a series of videos packages;
- Keith Olbermann’s essay on the top MLB players ever drafted after the fifth round.
- ESPN.com is also documenting the MLB Draft with a special coverage section that includes McDaniel’s mock drafts.
And here’s more on MLB Network’s coverage:
— MLB Network PR (@MLBNetworkPR) May 29, 2020
It’s fascinating that this year has produced two networks covering the MLB Draft independently and only one primary broadcast of the NFL Draft (ESPN and NFL Network combined their coverage for the first time; there was also a separate broadcast on ABC, but that’s under the ESPN umbrella). But a five-round draft is certainly easier to cover than a 50-round draft. And there’s certainly much less going on in sports right now than there usually is in early June.
Last year’s MLB draft, held June 3-5, took place during both the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Final. While ESPN doesn’t directly air either of those, the NBA Finals are on sister network ABC and ESPN does lots of shoulder content around them; they also tend to do some coverage of what’s going on in hockey, despite that airing on NBC’s networks. And they usually have actual MLB games at this time as well. But with none of that happening at this point of this year, that adds to the case for ESPN to create some draft coverage here.
And it’s good for viewers to have the option of ESPN or MLB Network coverage. That’s one thing we’ve often seen in the eras where both ESPN and NFL Network have covered the NFL Draft; the broadcasts feature different personalities and different styles, and people display significant preferences for one or the other. Dueling MLB Draft coverage is newer, but there are undoubtedly fans who have preferences for either the MLB Network hosts and analysts or the ESPN ones, and this will let them exercise those preferences.
Having the draft carried on ESPN’s networks as well as MLBN should also provide some extra exposure for it. The last Nielsen coverage estimates we saw (in April 2019) had ESPN with 84.7 million subscribers, ESPN2 with 84.5 million, and MLBN with 56.5 million. While the numbers have certainly changed since then, it seems clear that ESPN and ESPN2 still have significantly more carriage than MLBN. So this makes the draft available for more people to watch, and with much less going on in actual sports, more people likely will watch. (A five-round draft is also likely an easier sell to viewers than following a full 50-round draft.) We’ll see just how the ratings turn out for ESPN and MLBN, but with ESPN and its wide distribution coming in here, and with a shortened draft removing lower-viewership later rounds, this may well wind up as the most-watched MLB draft ever (in terms of average viewers, at least).