NFL Kills Draft Fun in the Name of Revenue
I'm starting to see a pattern with Roger Goodell's leadership as commissioner of the NFL, and the cliched phrase that comes to mind is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Or maybe a better choice would be "mo' money, mo' money, mo' money!"
Early on in his tenure I liked what I saw from Goodell, and that was even as he was fining and taking draft picks from my beloved New England Patriots for the video taping incident of 2007. I thought Goodell handled that situation as it should've been handled, and did not cave to the overhyped media frenzy that followed.
Goodell has been strict on player conduct, and that has become the thing he has hung his hat on. However, in almost all other areas we're starting to see change just for the sake of change. As in "cha-ching" change.
There are rumblings of a proposed 18-game season, while axing a couple preseason games. Sure, we can all agree that four preseason games are too many but teams can barely make it through 16 games with all their players healthy. 18 games would only mean more injuries, more fatigue, and ultimately, worsened quality of play.
But that doesn't matter, because 18 regular season games would mean significantly more cash flow, and that's what we're seeing the new NFL is all about.
The last weekend in April has been one of my favorite times of the offseason, as it is for all NFL fans. From the moment our team's season ends we begin to research the new crop of rookies about to enter the NFL. We find players who would be perfect for our team, the missing pieces to get us over the edge.
After three months of research, speculation and mock drafts, it all culminates on that last Saturday in April with the NFL Entry Draft. NFL fans spend two days around the TV, with friends and often reluctant family members. There are pools, predictions and for one weekend in the middle of spring, football reigns supreme.
At least it did. But those days are gone.
On Thursday the NFL announced the draft would be moving to a three-day event. The first round will air at 7:30pm EST on Thursday, April 22nd. The second and third rounds will air at 6:30pm EST on Friday, and the final four rounds will air on Saturday.
The move was painted as a chance to move the NFL draft to primetime (where advertisers would pay far more), while also "making it more accesible" to fans.
The reaction from NFL fans has been overwhelmingly negative. In a Boston.com poll over two-thirds of those polled were against the change. And that's on the East Coast, at least they'll be able to watch it!
How does putting something on TV at 4:30pm on a Thursday for West Coasters make it more accesibile than on a Saturday? I guess we can cross out anyone in the Pacific Time Zone from watching the majority of the first three rounds.
Not to mention Thursday night is the most competitive night of television. Survivor, Grey's Anatomy, The Office, 30 Rock and CSI are just some the shows that occupy Thursday evenings. The draft is sure to lose viewers to some of those shows as well, especially for those football fans whose wives are big Katherine Heigl fans.
Even the many fans who make the yearly trip to New York City to see the draft in person are going to have alter their plans. It's a safe bet that the new incarnation of the draft will no longer have the same overzealous crazies occupying the upper deck of Radio City Music Hall. Even they must have jobs, right?
The loss of that atmosphere will be one of the most disappointing things about the draft format.
The only people I can see happy with this change are the casual fans who live on the East Coast, who will be out of work in plenty of time, and happy to no longer "waste" a Saturday in front of the TV. As opposed to the diehard fans who considered a full weekend of draft-watching anything but a waste.
Sadly the game is no longer being marketed towards those fans.
If a change had to be made, why not have the first round on Friday night at 8pm EST? West Coast fans could still see it, draft parties would still have something to watch on Saturday, and you'd still get the primetime audience on a night where television is far less competitive than Thursdays (which is arguably the most competitive night of the entire week).
It's starting to become clear that the NFL under Roger Goodell is going to be about cashing in, and making change simply to put Goodell's stamp on the league.
Personally I hope this new draft format is a failure. The reasons are many. I won't be able to watch much, if any, of the first two rounds, and it ruined what was one of my favorite weekends of the year.
But maybe most of all I just wish the NFL wasn't the latest victim to become only about money at the expense of the people who love it most.
The casual NFL fan has never cared much about the draft and just because it's on primetime now won't make them care. Casual fans watch the draft for one thing: who their team picks. They are not staying up until 11pm on a Thursday night to find out who the Titans take at 27th overall.
The NFL is now trying to cater to the casual fans but the problem is that it's not the casual fans who made the NFL the booming juggernaut that it currently is.
That was done by the diehards; those who buy the draft magazines, who hang on every Mel Kiper Mock Draft, who buy a new collection of team schwag every season, who used to watch every second of the draft from Saturday until Sunday night.
They write the blogs and the tweets and often have more passion for the teams they follow than the jobs that pay their bills.
By turning its back on these fans the NFL is making a mistake, and biting the hand that fed them in the first place.
We can only hope that the changes will have negative results, and a more fan-friendly schedule will be reinstalled.
If not, the NFL will not only fail to gain new fans, it will lose the ones it already has.
Mike Dussault is a Patriots Community Leader and ready for the season to just start already.
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