Q&A: NFL Network’s Charlie Yook On Draft Tech And Cybersecurity Fears

    • ‘All of the key shots we need – the Commissioner, player homes, GM/Coach shots – are functioning,’ Yook says.
    • But security experts warn hackers are “always a threat.”

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This post has been corrected to attribute SAP NS2 comments to Chief Information Security Officer Ted Wagner.

The NFL’s dress rehearsal for its first Digital Draft experienced technical problems Monday. ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported the mock draft was plagued with bandwidth and communication issues.  Colleague Adam Schefter said the glitches began with the very first pick: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow to the Cincinnati Bengals. “Brutal,” one participant told Schefter.  

Coverage of tonight’s first round will air on NFL Network, ABC, ESPN, and ESPN Deportes (8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. ET).

The NFL says it’s resolved the issues and is ready to go. The league has likely been working with tech sponsor Microsoft to install secure internet connections and privately hosted versions of Microsoft Teams, according to Ted Wagner, chief information security officer of SAP NS2. Still, hackers are “always a threat,” he warned.

“I’m sure many would love to think they could disrupt a high-profile event,” Wagner said. “With dedicated lines, multi-factor authentication, or potentially zero-trust architecture, the league and Microsoft will try to mitigate this risk as much as possible.”

The top IT executives at the NFL, NFL Network, ESPN and Disney have been preparing for the first digital draft for weeks. Between them, ”we have back-ups to the back-up at every level – editorial, technical, operational,” Charlie Yook, NFL Network Producer, said.

READ MORE: NFL Draft Networks Face Web of Challenges for TV’s Primetime Return

Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy spoke with Yook about what to expect during round one. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Yook’s NFL Network is collaborating with ESPN to create a joint telecast for the event.

This interview has been condensed for clarity.

FRONT OFFICE SPORTS: How did NFL Draft dress rehearsals go this week?

CHARLIE YOOK: The dress rehearsals that I can speak upon went fine. There is a reason why you practice – and a reason why you do “LIVE” drills. Any unexpected technical hurdles will be addressed as they occur.

FOS: So what worked well and what didn’t?

CY: All of the key shots we need – the Commissioner, player homes, GM/Coach shots – are functioning. The choreography of the picks is something that we’ll need to smooth out by Thursday because of all the remotes, but we are formatting that to ensure a broadcast that flows well.

FOS: Where’s the most concern about this digital draft possibly going sideways? The 100-plus home cameras for players, coaches, and GM’s? WiFi? Audio?

CY: Bandwidth is a concern, considering the heightened activity during this event, but I think there is a level of forgiveness from the viewer these days, considering what’s going on and what they’ve seen on television the last month or so.

FOS: Is it a challenge for NFL Network to work with ESPN after competing against each other on draft coverage since 2006?  

CY: Working with ESPN has been a pleasure, and many of us go back a long way with them. We understand the scope and magnitude of the player selection process, respect the business at hand, and have been rowing in the same direction since the decision was made to do a co-production simulcast.