But this year, the NFL delayed the 2014 NFL draft by two weeks. Some initial reports cited the additional preparation for teams before the draft. But the reality is that the league is trying to shorten the time from the NFL draft until the NFL preseason begins. As long as the NFL has fan interest, which it does through the selection of Mr. Irrelevant, television advertisement and sponsors rush to spend hard coin to be part of the event.
The NFL draft owes a great deal of thanks to once the once start-up sports network ESPN, whose search to fill the 24 hour airwaves with sports developed a number of programs that had gone overlooked by the major networks of their day. In 1980, ESPN’s president approached NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and asked for exclusive rights to broadcast the NFL draft. Despite his personal belief that it would not hold audience appeal, Rozelle consented and televised coverage of the NFL draft became a reality. But it was not until ESPN turned to the services of the golden tongue analyst from Bal’more by the name of Mel Kiper. With his hard hitting analysis, and his fearless challenge to football’s general managers, Kiper drew spectators to follow his predictive approach. As teams walked away from the draft with their selections, Kiper would assign each a grade as to his opinion of their effectiveness. By 1988, the NFL recognized the growing popularity of the draft, and consented to move the selection to the weekend. In one of the most memorable moments of the NFL draft occured in 1994 when Mel Kiper was very verbally disappointed in a fifth round selection of the Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Tobin, who rather than pick Kiper’s favorite Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer, opted to select Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts. Upon hearing of Kiper’s confusion in a follow-up interview with ESPN, Tobin asked “Who the hell is Mel Kiper?”. Tobin, who had an incredible run as general manager of the Colts, was replaced three years later by Bill Polian.
By 2006, the NFL draft was such a major event, that the league launched its very own network. In doing so, it began to compete directly with ESPN and escalated the focus on the sport in filling the airwaves with football exclusively. As a means to encourage fan participation, and not simply spectating, the league encouraged fan simulating an NFL general manager through fantasy football.
In 2010, the NFL again modified the format to become more television friendly, and switched to a three day event: round one beginning on Thursday evening at 7 PM (EDT), rounds two and three beginning the following night at 6 PM (EDT), and rounds four through seven beginning on Saturday morning at 10 AM (EDT).
But this year, the league delayed that draft. The hope was to learn the delay was a one time event, but in an interview with NFL network’s Jeff Darlington, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that the schedule is still up in the air.
“The reason why we moved it two weeks later is the facility (Radio City Music Hall) . They just didn’t have the dates. We’re looking at a lot of options with respect to the draft to create even more excitement around the draft. Maybe even expanding the number of rounds, excuse me the number of days which we have the draft. We also may change the location or combine it so there are a lot of things we have to balance it with. I was speaking with Coach Smith this morning and he thinks it’s worked very well for him as a first year head coach. Where it gives him a chance to have his minicamp and evaluate his players and make some decisions on what he needs in the draft. There’s some real positives to it, we’ll balance that and we’ll make a decision soon.” – Roger Goodell in an interview with Jeff Darlington
When Darlington was asked about the rumors of expanding the draft, he denied expanding beyond the now seven round format. But he did not shoot down the possibilities of a four day draft in saying:
“Possibly, we’re looking at a lot of alternatives. We haven’t settled on anything but we think there are ways we can make the draft even more popular.”
So the plan is under consideration for a four day format. Will it work? There are already signs that the NFL has reached optimal capacity. Fans and sportswriters are showing signs of frustration, in the realization that if it sells more television time, it’s bound to be approved. But we know that the American market is fickle. The hottest entertainment artists know that popularity is fleeting. The NFL risks over-saturation – marketing so much of their brand name that the novelty wears off.
But for now, the draft is a hot commodity – three days of fandemonium. But what happens if it turns into four days? I would say stay tuned and we’ll find out, but it’s just as likely you won’t on day four. Perhaps there is a limit, after all.