The NFL Draft. One of the strangest "sporting events" on the sports calendar. If you are a non-sports fan or just a casual sports fan, the appeal of the NFL Draft would make absolutely no sense. Who in their right mind would sit around for 18 hours on a spring weekend to watch a bunch of guys in suits analyzing draft picks?? On the surface, it sounds dumb.
And yet I love the NFL Draft. I've been watching the NFL Draft for 20 years and enjoy it as much as I ever have. Heck, I wrote about eight bazillion words on this year's NFL Draft on this site. I think people love the NFL Draft because a) it's football in April b) it combines college football and the NFL and c) it gives you immediate hope as a fan of an NFL franchise and d) every fan gets to be an NFL GM for a weekend. Throw all four of those things into play, and you have the perfect recipe for a great event.
The other thing about the Draft is that it's the ultimate male bonding weekend. NFL Draft weekend is an excuse to get a group of dudes together for the weekend to watch the Draft, talk football, curse your team or sing its praises, eat a ton of crappy food, and sample some adult beverages. All in all, you end up watching 6-8 hours of football over two days, and don't really feel bad or guilty about it at all. The weather is usually pretty good, so you inevitably end up tossing the football outside or going to a spring college football game or maybe hitting up the links at some point. It's impossible not to have a good time on NFL Draft weekend.
And yet Roger Goodell seems to be determined to ruin all of the fun in attempt to squeeze a couple more dollars out of the event (which I am predicting will not happen....more on that later though). The Draft is about to go from a Saturday afternoon/evening and Sunday afternoon event to a THREE DAY extravaganza beginning with the first round on Thursday night at 7:30pmEST. The second and third rounds are now on Friday night at 6:30pm, and the final four rounds are on Saturday morning.
Who actually thinks this is a good idea?? Do we really need three days for the NFL Draft?? How is this a good move for NFL fans?? Instead of getting together on a Saturday afternoon to cook out and drink some beers with a few buddies while watching the bulk of the Draft, it has now turned into this convoluted three day "event" that starts on a Thursday and is effectively over by Saturday morning when it would normally just be starting up. The first round is on a Thursday night at 7:30pm on the east coast. Yea, I'll still watch the draft and might head to a sports bar to watch some of the first round, but Thursday is still a work night. The first round probably won't be over until 1am or something like that, which means you'll be feeling guilty about staying up to watch it. It's certainly not going to be the riproaring event that it would be on a Saturday afternoon.
Moving it from Saturday to Thursday also kills the camaraderie of the event. My brother and his friends have been getting together in various cities for years to watch the Draft, but now the main part of the draft is on a Thursday night. When you are talking about people with jobs and things going on at home during the week, those types of get-togethers become obsolete with this change. What about all of the people who camp out to go to the NFL Draft?? How does that work now that it's spread out over three days?? That makes me sad to think about all those Jets and Giants fans who have loyally attended the Draft for all these years.
Will people still get together with friends to watch the first round of the Draft?? Sure, it can be done. It's no different than getting together at a bar or a friend's house to watch Monday Night Football or a Thursday Night game. But are people really going to double down and get together AGAIN on Friday night to watch the 2nd and 3rd rounds?? Is Roger Goodell aware that people have lives outside of the NFL?? How many nights in a row can you ask your fans to blow off their wives/girlfriends and/or kids to watch something like the NFL Draft that isn't even a real sport??
The other thing is that the NFL Draft will start at 4:30pm on the west coast on Thursday and at 3:30pm on Friday. If I lived on the west coast, I would be bummed about that. You went from being able to roll out of bed at 9am on a Saturday to watch the draft to now being forced to leave work early to watch it at 4:30pm on a weekday.
I know the NFL and ESPN will probably make a bunch of money from advertisers in the short term. Primetime tv during the week draws more eyeballs than a Saturday afternoon telecast, and they get to show three days of coverage now. Plus, they'll have all of Friday to hype up the post first round stuff and all the trades that come out of that. Maybe the dollars are worth it. I don't know.
But one thing I do know is that this move RUINS a very special spring Saturday for football fans. Football fans starve for football 365 days a year, and the NFL Draft has always been like an oasis during a long offseason. Now, it won't be the same. I'll still watch the Draft of course, but it will no longer be "NFL Draft Weekend." It'll just be like any other sporting event during the week where you might watch it over a couple beers but won't look forward to it all week/month.
Roger Goodell is undoubtedly a very shrewd businessman, but I think he is quietly turning into the David Stern of the NFL. He is in such a hurry to "expand the brand" that he is forgetting about his core audience. You know, like actual football fans. He can't wait to globalize the NFL and create the NFL Network even though no one gets the channel and to put the Super Bowl in London and expand the Draft into primetime that he is forgetting that the only reason the NFL Draft is so popular is because of all the diehard fans who have supported it through the years. When you go for the "casual fan," you dilute your product and alienate your core fans.
Stern made this same mistake with the NBA even though no one calls him out on it. He went out of his way to bring the NBA to urban audiences, teenagers, and foreigners while skipping over the rest of the American public. Maybe the game is more popular in China, but no one cares about the NBA in places like St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Heck, even a lot of markets with NBA teams could care less about the league. By taking those fans for granted, he lost them forever. Now, their tv ratings stink, and half the teams in the league are bankrupt.
The NFL has always succeeded by being the ultimate American brand. It is a game played almost exclusively by Americans, and it's a game that has traditionally been marketed exclusively to Americans. The Super Bowl is practically a national holiday, and the Thanksgiving NFL games are as much of a tradition as turkey and mashed potatoes. The NFL Draft is a part of that lore. The NFL provided this great event for football fans in April, and fans returned the love by staying fiercely loyal to the league.
Perhaps this is purely anecdotal to base it on the opinions of a few friends/family, but I really think the interest in the NFL in America may be waning just a bit. It seems like a lot of people are steadily losing interest in the league. It's still the top dog and maybe the ratings are still strong, but the league has gone stale. There's too much coverage on ESPN (Brett Favre....ugh), every team runs the exact same offense, all the stadiums are exactly the same, all the announcers sound exactly the same, etc, and now you have Goodell trying to take away the few good things about the NFL that make it unique. When you compare it to the college game with all of the pomp and circumstances of marching bands and legendary stadiums and student sections and fabulous uniforms and passionate fanbases, there really is no comparison. College football seems to be growing in popularity every year as more and more fans are drawn in to the magic of college football.
The NFL has taken its fans for granted. If you take your fans for granted, they might just start tuning you out. Creating the NFL Network and putting a bunch of regular season games on the channel even though no one gets the channel (and still don't get it!!) was the height of arrogance, and now they've taken the NFL Draft from a perfect spring Saturday to a watered-down three day event that will not hold my attention past Thursday. When you ask for three days from your NFL fans to watch the Draft instead of one, they might just not bother to watch it at all. And that could carry over to Sunday afternoons in the fall. Plenty of yardwork to be done in the fall on Sundays. Or fans might just turn their attention to college football, which would be fine with me.
Mark this down. I think we'll look back in ten years at the Roger Goodell era and say that he presided over the downfall of the league as the uber-sport in America. Goodell is in such a rush to expose the brand to new audiences that he doesn't seem to realize that he is alienating his core fans. There's something to be said about dancing with the girl that brought you there. Fans are upset about this draft thing, and I think we could have a little populist revolt on our hands. I hope that's the case.