NFL Draft: Why Popular Event Will Get Bigger in 2013 and Beyond

Steven Gerwel@Steve_GerFeatured Columnist IVMay 1, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans gets ready for the game with the UCLA Bruins at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

There was a time when baseball was the king of American sports. It was the nation's beloved pastime—a pastime that was diluted thanks to a strike in 1994, and the steroid era. 

Now that baseball has been dethroned, which sports empire currently dominates the country?

Well, let's put it this way: Game 3 of the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers had 11.2 million viewers (the lowest-rated game of the series). 

During Game 3, Albert Pujols belted three home runs. No baseball players has ever hit three homers in a single World Series game besides Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson. 

Meanwhile, the 2012 NFL draft, which aired the first round Thursday night on both ESPN and the NFL Network, combined for 8.1 million viewers. 

So, while a historic World Series game attracts 11.2 million viewers, the first round of the NFL draft (an event that contains no football whatsoever) trailed by only 3.1 million viewers. 

The most-viewed game of the 2011 World Series was Game 7, a contest that attracted 25.4 million viewers, which pales in comparison to Super Bowl XLVI and its 111.3 million viewers. 

The NFL is clearly a monopoly. It is the most dominant sports league ever. The Super Bowl consistently crushes the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Finals in the ratings. 

On top of that, a mere offseason event like the NFL draft is nearly as popular as the championship games of other professional sports. 

So why is the draft so popular? 

Where the popularity comes from

While the draft process is insignificant and boring in most sports, such as baseball and hockey, the NFL draft is an offseason event that stirs up fans like none other. Most sports can only attract attention from their fans during the actual season, but the NFL has mastered the art of entertaining fans throughout the entire year. 

But how is that possible? 

It's pretty simple: For the draft to be popular, the fans must know what's going on. To know what's going on, they must be familiar with the players. To be familiar with the players, you have to watch them in college. 

And it's as simple as that. College football is a powerhouse, so people are genuinely interested in the future of their favorite college athletes. 

College baseball and hockey are completely ignored, and it's certainly hard to hype up a draft full of no-names. 

The only draft that compares to the NFL draft as far as coverage and fan interest is the NBA draft, and it's no coincidence that basketball is another college sport that draws interest from fans.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Andrew Luck (R) from Stanford holds up a jersey as he stands on stage with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after Luck was selected #1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music H
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

So unlike most sports, football draftees are already celebrities before they even take one snap in the NFL.

Not to mention, the top prospects of the MLB draft typically go through a farm system and don't even earn a roster spot until two or three years down the road, if at all. In the NFL, however, first-round draft picks are usually starters just four months later.   

Will the draft continue to grow? 

The NFL draft was exciting, but there's a chance that the growth will continue in 2013. 

Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, which puts restrictions on the cost of rookie contracts, teams are no longer scared to pick in the top 10. Due to the reduced cost, a top-10 bust will no longer cripple a franchise. 

With the new rookie salary cap in place, there were four trades in the top 10 this year. This includes a blockbuster trade between St. Louis and Washington months before the draft, which helped generate buzz leading up the event. 

All the wheeling and dealing with early picks adds to the entertainment, and it's a trend that will surely continue. 

On top of that, there will once again be a franchise quarterback entering the draft in 2013: Matt Barkley of USC. 

After being banned from bowl games for two years, the USC Trojans will be led by Barkley, who is the early favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2013, much like Andrew Luck. Between Barkley's popularity and USC's bowl eligibility, the national media will have plenty to sink their teeth into. Both Barkley and USC will be shoved down our throats all season long in Tim Tebow-like fashion.

With a successful season by Barkley in 2012 and an increased amount of first-round trades in 2013, next year's draft could be a record-breaker when it's all said and done.