When is enough, enough?
According to NFL Network's Jeff Darlington, the NFL is considering stretching the draft to a fourth day of coverage. This is another step in the NFL's push to make the draft into the premier event in the late spring/early summer.
Having eclipsed the other league drafts long ago, the league is aiming its dagger straight at the heart of the NBA and NHL playoffs and the early MLB season. We're not quite at the point where the other leagues wouldn't dare schedule things for those nights, but it's possible we're not far off.
One might suggest, however, that this is a step too far.
By 2018, the NFL will have turned undrafted free agency into a long-running Broadway show featuring Neil Patrick Harris and James Franco— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) April 25, 2014
The NFL wants to be appointment viewing, but the appointment can't be for every single night, right?
People hate change, and people really seem to love the NFL. So, they worry about change to the NFL. Yet, this rumored step is nothing to be worried about—unless you're one of the league's competitors.
Oversaturation Isn't Really a Problem...Yet
Mark Cuban's thoughts on the matter aside, the NFL isn't really in danger.
Let's go through some nuance here: The NFL might be in danger of implosion at some point in the future. Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, one day it's more than possible that the NFL becomes too big for its proverbial britches and finds itself suffering some sort of ill effects from growing exponentially larger for so long.
These are, however, potentialities in the future, not current concerns.
When is that future?
A more cynical fan (or Cuban himself) might believe the future truly is now, or that the latest suggested overreach of the NFL's draft extravaganza might be the final straw to break the camel's back. Yet, what evidence is there of that?
Has the NFL's revenue plateaued? No.
Did the NFL's last draft expansion into multinight prime time backfire in any way? No.
Does the NFL still outdraw every other sport, even to the point where the draft overdraws playoff games in other leagues? Yes.
The NFL recently hired Perkins Miller to help expand their over-the-top service called NFL Now. Miller has run digital media for a lot of companies and has managed some big events. Most recently, he had a big hand in WWE's over-the-top service, which has been a big success.
Basically, what the NFL wants to do is put a personalized media experience in the hand of every NFL fan—much like what Team Stream does. This is not the action of a league that is worried about the potential of oversaturation.
Maybe, just maybe, NFL Now fails—not saying it will (it almost certainly won't) or that I want it to, just a possibility. If that were to happen, it would be evidence that the NFL has put so much content and discussion into the general ether of sports consciousness that it's simply become too much.
With that being the hypothetical case, then the league might start to think about pulling back.
It's unlikely to happen.
That's the thing, here. It isn't as if the people running the NFL are some pie-in-the-sky investors blowing up their bubbles, completely oblivious to the fact that they might soon pop. These are multibillionaires who are well-versed in things like risk management, hedging their bets and sound expansion strategies.
While it might seem, to fans and media, that the NFL is constantly changing its mind every year and almost always trying to take the next big leap, the NFL moves at near-glacial speeds in the business world. It moves that way because the guys running the league aren't in this business to potentially lose money.
Cuban might be an awfully successful businessman, but so are New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and pretty much every single one of the other NFL owners—especially those who purchased their teams with billions upon billions of dollars, but it's not like the inheritors are losing money either.
Days 3 and 4 Actually Have To Be, You Know, Entertaining
The NFL could be one pick per day over the course of the entire year and there would be some of us who would still watch the two-hour coverage every single night. For the casual fans that the NFL is trying to bring in, however, it better make sure the first and second nights are supersized events with stuff still scintillating enough to keep people's attentions through Day 4.
The best way to do this, of course, is to switch focus from the top guys of the draft on Day 1 and Day 2 to the guys actually being drafted in the later rounds of the draft. It is almost impossible to do this with the network's current setup of rehashing the big storylines over and over.
I could see 4-day NFL Draft with CBS carrying the 1st round on Thursday as part of TNF package. May sweeps winner.— Chris Pika (@BlogAndTackle) April 25, 2014
While there is some sort of logic in talking about what people care about rather than the new fifth-string cornerback, fans can only take so much talk of the same thing for four days straight.
It could also be that the best course of action is a best-of-both-worlds scenario, where ESPN and NFL Network find a healthy balance between what is happening in the moment and yet keeping an eye on the bigger storylines for each (that's every single) team.
That means, likely, a bigger coverage unit for both networks. Hypothetically, it's a bigger investment, but it's not like there aren't tons of analysts and former players/coaches/personnel men kicking around both of those channels with plenty to say.
It's change, and if the NFL is going to change the format, its media partners need to commit to change as well.
One of the most exciting times of the entire process could be brought to life in prime time as well.
Within moments—literally moments, sometimes less—of the draft ending, undrafted free agents start signing with teams. For the most part, these players are not huge names, nor are they going to contribute to long-lasting success on their new teams.
Still, it's an exciting process where news flies fast and furious. On ESPN, Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, Adam Caplan and Field Yates could be slinging out signings like nobody's business. Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and the rest of the Scouts Inc. team would more than earn their pay by delving deep into the names that almost no one else has a handle on.
Things would be much the same on the NFL Network, where its stable is equally as deep.
It would take undrafted free agency from the diehards on Twitter and hand it to the general public under the bright lights. Would it draw the same-sized crowd as the first round? Almost certainly not. Would it draw more than the post-draft SportsCenter? Almost certainly yes.
More importantly, in this scenario, would a couple of late rounds and undrafted free agency outdraw whatever reruns or rehashings of content would've been on those channels on Saturday or Sunday night in the middle of May?
No question it would.
What About Actually Making the Draft Longer?
Right now, the league is looking at expanding coverage, but not actually expanding the draft.
Why the half measures, NFL?
Many teams want bigger rosters for various reasons. Even if we're not talking game-day units, the process of team-building has changed over the years, and keeping extra practice squad or end-of-the-roster guys around is a must.
The recent CBA made some expansions here, but some don't feel that they are enough.
The NFL failed to pass a couple of roster-expansion proposals at this year's owners meetings. If the league ever agreed on expanding the practice squad and/or the active roster, it would make a ton of sense to add a couple of rounds to the draft.
The players and their union are always fighting for more space on rosters and more chances for guys to enter and stay in the league. The numbers could be construed to make the differences between an eighth-round draftee contractually almost identical as an undrafted free agent today.
Logically, expanding the draft coverage makes sense if we're also considering expanding the draft, and doing so would almost certainly be a positive. The only hang-up is money, as owners know that a few extra players a team adds up to a pretty big dent in the overall revenue—not percentage-wise, but money is money.
In the court of public opinion, there would be little to no blowback—even from the Cuban-level critics of the world—if the league pushed the draft to a fourth day if it meant the last day was the seventh-10th rounds.
Those players would add to the expanded rosters and mostly supplant the guys who would go in the early moments of undrafted free agency. This could be done instead of or in conjunction with the live undrafted free agency coverage mentioned above.
If and when this change actually happens, it will be something new for the media that covers the draft and certainly something new for the fans who watch it, but it is far too early to criticize it as a risk.
Until the NFL starts losing money on deals like this, it will keep making them.