When is prohibited pick-tipping not pick-tipping? When it applies to the first overall pick in the NFL draft, apparently. As we wrote earlier this month, ESPN and NFL Network again agreed ahead of this draft that their reporters would not report what they’d learned about which teams would pick certain prospects before those picks were officially announced from the podium. And a Pro Football Talk report there Thursday from Mike Florio seemed to be the logical culmination of that, with the headline of “NFLN, ESPN reporters have been told not to report the first overall pick.” Here’s the full description of that from that piece:
But the league has taken the directive to the next level. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, both NFL Network, which will televise the draft, and ESPN, which along with sister network ABC will televise it as well, have informed their reporters to not report the identity of the first overall pick in the 2019 draft.
This doesn’t mean that any of them currently know what will happen with the first overall pick and are actively concealing it. It does mean, however, that if they manage to get to the truth before the Cardinals go on the clock, they’re forbidden from breaking the news.
It’s not really a surprise; we’ve speculated for weeks that the reporters who work for the networks that will televise the draft have been told not to spoil the surprise. Even if spoiling surprises is what reporters routinely aspire to do.
However, ESPN executive vice president of production Seth Markman then denied that on Twitter:
— Seth Markman (@tunasweasel) April 25, 2019
Michael McCarthy of The Sporting News then got a further denial from the NFL:
An NFL spokesman told Sporting News via email: “Neither NFL Network nor ESPN has been directed not to report on who might be the No. 1 pick.”
And ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said he’d been told he and other reporters could report the #1 overall pick as long as he had “firm confirmation”:
Lot of smokescreens as always but I can 100% report that we have not been instructed to avoid disclosure of the No. 1 pick. We are not tipping picks during the draft but as for the No. 1 choice, we can report if we get firm confirmation.
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) April 25, 2019
Meanwhile, Florio noted that it sure seems like ESPN is committing to the “The Cardinals will take Kyler Murray first overall” narrative, even without an official report from Mortensen or Adam Schefter:
ESPN's Wendi Nix just said this on ESPN of the Cardinals: “Will they opt for Kyler Murray, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick? Our sources say they sure will.” I don't think anyone from ESPN has reported this. Am I missing something?
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) April 25, 2019
It’s quite interesting that this is one kind of pick-tipping the NFL wouldn’t try to restrict, and it’s not clear why. The #1 overall pick would seem to carry even more value from an audience standpoint than the following picks, and so their general logic of “let’s suppress reporting to buttress TV drama” would seem to apply. But maybe there was some pushback from ESPN there, with the network deciding it’s fine to not spoil subsequent podium announcements if they can both get and relay the #1 overall pick ahead of time. Or maybe the key is the “if we can get firm confirmation” Mortensen mentions; maybe pick-tipping here is being allowed, but the bar for doing so is so high relative to normal reporting standards that it can’t easily be achieved, allowing ESPN to claim they’re not suppressing reporting while still maintaining the “drama” around the TV announcement of the top pick.
It’s understandable why some fans don’t want reporters tipping picks; they want to be able to see the drama of podium announcements without having to log off Twitter to avoid knowledge of what’s coming. It’s similar to anti-spoiler comments about movies in many ways; those who get to it after the release don’t want to see anyone discussing plot points ahead of time. (A very relevant comparison, considering that Thursday night is the Avengers: Endgame premiere, and that many of those tuned into the draft may have to try some spoiler avoidance before they go see that movie.)
But the NFL draft has a news component as well as an entertainment one, and pushing against pick-tipping is a restriction on those who would normally be reporting the news (fortunately, NFL reporters who don’t work for ESPN or NFL Network can still tip picks), and a restriction on those who want news as it happens, not as it’s choreographed for TV. And given that ESPN and NFLN have so completely given into the anti-pick-tipping crowd otherwise, it’s interesting to see them and the league claiming that pick-tipping is fine for the first-overall pick. We’ll see if anyone actually authoritatively tips that pick, though.