John Wildhack, one of ESPN’s key players behind the scenes, gave us some interesting stories and information in yet another interview for the book, Draft Daze. Wildhack has been at ESPN since its infancy in the 1980s and has played important roles in the NFL Draft broadcast and a number of other events as ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Production. Here are a few highlights from the interview. (Everything else will appear in the book).
When ESPN first started airing the draft, did anyone have any idea how big it would get?
Not really. I think if any of us told you anything different, we would be a little disingenuous. We knew it was a property that had growth potential. What it has ultimately developed into now is truly amazing. I don’t think anyone foresaw that 30 years ago.
What has Mel Kiper meant to ESPN’s draft coverage?
When he started, he looked like he was about 15…(Laughs). His preparation was unbelievable and his knowledge was encyclopedic. He was really, really valuable for us. His expertise and his passion (were tremendous) and we had the platform to give him the time. It was a perfect combination. He was young and energetic and knew his stuff cold. We had the platform and the opportunity to give him time and fans instantly gravitated to him.
The draft seems to be one of the biggest events on the spring sports schedule.
No question. If you look at the second quarter for us, clearly the draft, along with the Masters and the women’s (basketball) national championship, is one of our signature events. The NFL and college football continue to enjoy tremendous popularity and when you blend those two together with the draft, it’s very powerful.
Do you feel the energy when draft day finally arrives?
I think you have to, no question. With the fans in attendance and outside there’s a great energy about it. It’s an enormously complicated show to do and an incredibly complex (process). That and the combination of the unknown makes it so much fun.
Many thanks to John for the interview. Check out his ESPN bio here.