2010 marked a first in NFL Draft history, as the event was held over three days with the first round airing in prime time on Thursday night.
To be honest, I wasn’t able to "watch" much of the TV coverage of the draft. As B/R’s man on the ground at Radio City, I had both the ESPN and NFL Network feeds on large screens above my head, but couldn’t hear them and at times wasn’t able to pay attention to them.
But having experienced all 15 or so hours of the event, I saw both the good and the bad of the new format.
So what worked and what didn’t?
PRO: It didn’t feel like 15 hours…
Until this year, the NFL Draft was conducted over two of the longest days of the year. While the official time of the draft was 14 hours, 42 minutes, it was much more palpable over three days.
Thanks to new the relatively new timing rules (10 minutes in round one, seven in round two and five in the remaining rounds), things sped along quickly.
The first round lasted roughly three-and-a-half hours, while rounds two and three combined lasted slightly less than four—but because those spans were split over two days, it wasn’t unbearable.
And even though Day 3 was about as long as the average workday, the rapid fire of 157 picks in seven hours meant there was very little down time (assuming the Pats didn’t have back-to-back selections, of course).
Draft ratings were up 30% from 2009 for the first round, so clearly the split was effective on the surface.
CON: …Because you may have missed some of it
Even the league probably realizes that only true die-hard draftniks watched all 15 hours.
But in reality, some of those who want to be couldn’t.
The first round began at 7:30 PM EST. While that’s great for primetime viewership in the East, it’s tough for those in the Central time zone and horrible for people in Los Angeles.
Only half of the Top 12 picks came from teams in the Eastern time zone, and while fans in St. Louis knew their pick would be in between 6:30 and 6:40 local time, those fans in Seattle who wanted to catch the Seahawks’ first pick—which was made at 8:17 PM EDT—wouldn’t have been able to if they had a 9-to-5 job or a late-afternoon commitment.
Friday was even worse for the West Coasters, as the entire second round was over before 5:30 PM PDT…and Saturday’s 7 A.M. kickoff likely kept even the most ardent of fans from seeing the fourth and fifth (and possibly sixth) rounds.
If the first round ratings were up 30% despite this though, imagine what they would have been like if one-third of the country could have seen it in its entirety?
PRO: Round 1 felt much bigger
Of course, the first round is bigger than the rest.
But when isolated from the entire rest of the draft, the first round—and its prime time, red carpet extravaganza—had an Academy Awards-type feel that even the strongest of rounds held on a Saturday afternoon.
The draft is held in one of the most notable entertainment houses in the No. 1 media market in the country already; add in the hoopla surrounding the first round, and Thursday night had an aura about it that made the NFL Draft the place to be.
Plus, Friday’s sports programming was largely devoted to first-round events—making the talk only 12-24 hours out of date instead of 48.
CON: The other rounds felt much smaller
There’s the equal and opposite reaction.
Without the first round there on the same day to carry them, the second and third rounds just felt a little more secondary.
The fourth through seventh? They might as well have been done by picking names out of a hat.
Even though 2010 was considered one of the deeper drafts in years, those selected on Day 2 had no prime time glitz, no red carpet glamour, and no jerseys to model for the cameras—which is why Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Ghee, two players invited to New York but not selected until Friday, had to use their new team’s helmet as a prop in their pictures with Roger Goodell.
They brought out the gimmicks (i.e. guest presenters) in the later rounds, but while Goodell saw it as “great,” many saw it as a ploy to give them anything to talk about.
PRO: More time = more content
In previous years, Day 2 of the draft was full of videoconferencing with coaches, analysts breaking down draft picks and video packages highlighting the newest NFL players.
In 2010, Days 2 and 3 had more in-depth coverage of everything that happened. Analysts had more time to ponder the previous rounds, production people had more time to prepare content, and the ESPN crew brought out the “A Team” for two nights (which also meant an extra day’s pay for Mel Kiper’s hairstylist).
In short, there was more proactive coverage than reactive coverage.
CON: More time = less caring
As Commissioner Roger Goodell told me in an exclusive interview on Sunday, the Thursday format “made the game available to more viewers and that’s a good thing.”
However, Friday night (even in dead of winter) is traditionally the worst television night of the week, and Saturday isn’t much better—and with the lack of “big” names in the later rounds, people were more likely to give it a pass.
The ratings were way up for Thursday night’s first round, but they were even-to-down for Days 2 and 3.
Add in the fact that the first-round was 36 hours in the books by the time Day 3 began, and you had stories that were already covered from every angle being beaten to death because ESPN had seven hours of relatively unexciting activity to cover for.
PRO: Less pressure in the early rounds
Only the Seahawks and 49ers had multiple picks on Day 1, at least until Denver bought the winning ticket in the Tim Tebow sweepstakes.
So for 20-odd teams, the time between Rounds 1 and 2 was much less reactionary than in years before. Once, say, the Rams selected Sam Bradford, they had three hours to sit around and then 20 or so to evaluate their boards and entertain trade possibilities.
The remainder of the league had slightly less (or more, in the case of the Bears and Panthers) time, but the point remains the same—instead of having to react on the fly, there was a good day or so to look at the big picture.
CON: Idle time = overthinking
There were seven trades on Day 1, and another seven on Day 2.
Teams were more likely to make “reaches,” as they had more time to talk themselves into a bad idea than to talk themselves out of a good one so to speak.
And while it didn’t happen in 2010, there’s a scenario that could make this even worse.
The Rams, who held selection No. 33, would’ve had much more time to weigh offers if they were looking to trade out…but then again, other teams would have had potentially up their antes significantly, as a trade that would look appealing as a shotgun deal might not be so after a night’s sleep.
PRO: A welcome to the big time
All of that glitz and glamour I’ve talked about?
While the new draftees may have been in some big spots in their college careers, those were nothing compared to the pressure of even the earliest NFL game.
But by coming to New York, facing a media blitz, and being “it” on the grand stage, the Class of 2010 got their first taste of what life in the NFL will be like.
CON: The worst night’s sleep ever
That’s what Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, and several others probably got on Thursday night.
In years past, Clausen’s fall would have been just as epic but a lot shorter; he would have had an hour or two to marinate on not being a first-rounder.
Try having close to 24.
Now imagine if he had accepted the NFL’s invitation to sit in the green room?
Instead of just having to wait a little while longer, he would have had to spend an entire extra day in New York. Sure, he would have had company in Gronkowski and Ghee, but those guys were in New York for prior events and almost likely wouldn’t have been there just for the draft.
Yes, a B. I can’t give it an “A” simply because a few of those cons were present solely because of the format change.
But right now, it’s clear that Thursday night was a hit among players, teams, and fans alike.
During an exclusive interview with B/R on Sunday, Commissioner Goodell told me that he was optimistic about the format’s future; he hadn’t spoken with a lot of clubs yet at the time, but said those he had talked with seemed to be in favor of it.
He also told me that the league has discussed the idea of rotating draft spots—or, if the format is successful, perhaps holding one or more of the days in a different location than New York City.
That would be a whole new wrinkle for the report card, so let’s hope the NFL remembers that you have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.