The NFL draft is a spectacle, an event and a celebration. The NFL draft takes up three days and is so popular Round 1 has its own prime time night.
Once upon a time, Friends and Seinfeld owned prime time television across the country on Thursday night, the most popular time to watch “the tube.” Yet on Thursday April 25, 2013 the NFL will own the evening. While the Super Bowl is one of the most watched events every year, the NFL draft, in its own right, is as popular as ever.
The NFL Network was more or less built around the draft. ESPN has dedicated hours and hours of programming building up to the event. What other sport has TWO networks broadcasting the some show at the same time? And the crazy part about all this coverage on television and radio is that there is no physical action aside from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hugging every draft pick as if he were M.D. Jennings and they were Golden Tate.
The NBA has a solid, sometimes dramatic draft, yet it does not even come close national profile of the NFL draft. MLB has a long and drawn out selection process. The NHL draft registers barely a blip in the sports world. The NFL draft is the greatest draft in all of sports and one of our nation's top annual sporting events for one major reason: college football.
The NFL draft has drama, storylines and intrigue. Fans gravitate toward it because most they know the history and backgrounds of the actors in this sports drama. The fans have watched over the years how their favorite characters have developed and need to see how the plot both ends for some players and begins anew for others.
Think of the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey playing Truman Burbank. Truman is born into a world where his entire life is scripted, and yet he is the only one that does not know the truth. The fans at home watch on the edge of their seats to find out the conclusion of a character's life in which they have become so personally invested.
College and NFL football fans are like the television viewers in The Truman Show. Both college football and NFL fans are fanatics who live and breathe for their favorite team. Many fans follow both levels of football, and this cross-pollination is a vital component of fan interest in the NFL draft. The mixing of these two worlds brings about the phenomenon that is draft weekend.
College football fans are like no other fans in any other sport in the world. They will follow their respective teams to the corner of the U.S. to watch them play. They line “The Grove” in Oxford, Mississippi and greet the players as they walk past. They tomahawk chop all game long in Tallahassee, Florida. They wear all white in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. They sing with the team after the game in South Bend, Indiana. They host the world’s largest cocktail party in Jacksonville, Florida. They “roll Toomer’s Corner” in Auburn, Alabama. They become the “12th Man” in College Station, Texas.
Most college football fans have a personal connection to the university whose football team they support. Some grew up as fans because that team was close by. Some had parents that went to the school. Others went to the college or university themselves. Whatever the allegiance, the bond compels heartfelt emotions, and fans will show their loyalty to the program forever.
Take the state of Alabama. If you live there, you are either an Alabama Crimson Tide fan or an Auburn Tiger fan. You cannot be both.
With such fanatical devotion to their team, college football fans connect with each player in the program.
Let’s use former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow as an example. Tebow is one of the greatest college football players of all time. No matter whether you like him, the man was outstanding at the college level. Fans gravitated to him. People wanted to see him, be around him and know more about him. Like Truman Burbank, his life was under a microscope and everyone wanted to know how the fairytale would end.
Even fans at LSU and South Carolina and Miami, for better or worse, followed the plot twists of Tebow’s life. Some wanted him to succeed, some wanted him to fail, but ultimately, they all watched because they were emotionally wrapped up in the story. Fans all over the world wanted to see if he would get drafted. They wanted to know if Tebow could be a first-round selection and, if so, who was willing to take him.
Fans were invested in the man and wanted to watch the story unfold.
This same plot line happens on campuses all across the country, every season. Somewhere right now as you read this story, you are thinking of a college football player you either interacted with first hand or followed from afar and are now following to see if they will be drafted in the NFL.
Maybe you grew up with a player who plays at Texas or played Babe Ruth baseball with a star for the Oregon Ducks. Maybe you had an economics class with a guy at Nebraska. Maybe you high-fived a player from your alma mater after the Red River Rivalry. Or, maybe as a USC fan, you simply need to know if Matt Barkley will be a first-round pick.
College football fans invest time and money in their teams, and having watched most of these players grow from boys to men, these fans feel that, in their own way, they have helped raise them.
With over 100 colleges and universities focusing on NFL draft weekend, the college fans pass the torch to the NFL fans.
NFL fandom is different than college. NFL fans love the players more than the pageantry and the program. But while college football teams can have over 100 players, the NFL is limited to 53 active players. This allows the fans to focus more on the individual players.
NFL fans will pay hundreds of dollars for a player’s jersey. While college fans embrace the entire college football experience, hardcore NFL fans truly become a part of the team. NFL fans live their life around their team and will make sacrifices in other areas of their life to make sure they can see their team play.
The NBA has a roster of 13 players and their draft is two rounds. MLB has 40 rounds in the draft. The NHL has seven rounds.
Fans of those sports do not connect to these drafts the way football fans do to the NFL draft. This in part due to the fact that both baseball and hockey divert their drafted players into the minor leagues. A player may get drafted in baseball from Georgia and not make the MLB for five years. In the NBA, with so few roster spots, players drafted in the latter part of the first round or later will have lower expectations of making an NBA roster.
In the NFL draft, each team has an average of seven picks and each of those players will have a chance to make their NFL club that season. As a fan, the viewing of a player's infancy (college) to his adulthood (NFL) can be followed constantly.
Fans from both the college and NFL football worlds can interact and debate the merits of each player in the draft. Twitter and Facebook allows fans from all walks of life to voice an opinion about the future of each player. With over 600 prospect available for the draft each year, no one player is a surefire hit. Take this year for example. The Kansas City Chiefs have the No. 1 selection overall. In a wide assortment of mock drafts, there is not a consensus first pick. That is rarely said about the NBA or MLB drafts.
Speaking of mock drafts, no other sport has so many fans, media and pundits that analyze year round college prospects and to which NFL team each will go. ESPN and the NFL Network are thus compelled to employ so many talking heads in order to meet the demand for information. So many different opinions help viewers form their own take on which incoming players will best help their favorite team, and this adds to the thriving debate that surrounds the NFL draft.
The draft is so popular that there is even an award for the last selection in the entire draft. "Mr. Irrelevant" began in 1976 and consists of a week-long celebration in California for the "winner" who is the last pick in the entire draft. Such traditions surrounding the draft further bring fans together and adds even more intrigue to an already amazing event.
A college fan watches the draft to see where a player from their favorite team gets drafted. A NFL fan watches the NFL draft to see what player gets added to their favorite team.
This transition is what makes the NFL draft the greatest draft in all sports.