The NFL Is Still All About Money, and That Might Kill the NFL Draft

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMarch 23, 2018

Fans watch as the Carolina Panthers are on the clock for their selection during the first round of the 2017 NFL football draft, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. Nearly 100,000 people attended the festivities surrounding the first night of the NFL draft Thursday. That's more than at any Super Bowl except one. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

It's sad but true: The NFL just might kill its own draft, thanks to a combination of greed and exposure. 

Well, maybe not kill, but squeeze any sense of fun from an occasion that has long been one of the most fun on the NFL calendar. The event is a few days of geekdom for draft nerds and hardcore fans. It's a time we can watch a player move from the fiefdom of college sports to the business of professional football all while remaining optimistic that everything will work out great for the players and teams.

But now the league appears intent on wringing any last drops of fun from the draft, thanks to an addiction to making as much money as humanly possible, no matter the consequences.

The NFL announced this week that Fox will air the first three rounds and ABC will show Rounds 4-7. Thus for the first time ever the entire draft will air on broadcast television. Of course, it will also air on ESPN and the NFL Network, as usual.

In total, there will be two broadcast networks and four cable channels airing the event. It will be a smorgasbord of 40-yard dash times, grit and coach-on-field talk. It will be...a lot.

I'm not the old goat on the lawn screaming about the days when the draft was more special. It's not that. What's happening with the event is the same thing the NFL did with Thursday Night Football. There's just too much football on TV, and now, there's too much draft.

The NFL would counter that the event is more popular than ever, and that fans want more. There is some truth to that. The NFL would also say, Our league is making huge amounts of cash, billions in fact, so shut up. We know what we're doing.

There is a bulletproof aspect to the NFL. The scandals pile up, but the business keeps rolling along. Ratings may fall, but not too much. The Panthers go on sale, and the bidding reaches $2.5 billion, according to Bloomberg. The NFL cuts a deal for streaming rights and garners a cool $2 billion.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State reacts after being picked #4 overall by the Dallas Cowboys during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Phot
Jon Durr/Getty Images

The question is: Are we seeing the league overproducing and overkilling its product again? Just as important, will it make a difference?

We all make money. We all cover the draft. I'll be writing about it. My site will cover it extensively. We all love the draft.

But this isn't about coverage. This is about the NFL's desire to monetize everything, to get every little drop of cash and viewers.

It can't just let something exist. It needs to drain it to the core.

This is a league I love, so I want it to succeed, but at some point, because of oversaturation, the bubble will burst.

Football is everywhere now, and it's everywhere more than ever before. The XFL, which lasted for one season in 2001, is coming back in 2020. The Arena League is still alive and kicking. There's the Spring League.

The Alliance of American Football, co-founded by longtime television executive Charlie Ebersol and Hall of Famer Bill Polian, will debut on February 9, 2019.

"This [spring football] is a massive gap in the market," Ebersol told reporters. "This is a marketplace of tens of millions of Americans who have been telling us for decades that they want to see high-quality football longer than the football season."

That may have been accurate decades ago, when football wasn't covered year-round as extensively as it is now, but the NFL is covered practically hourly except for about six weeks starting in June.

Now, with more football than ever available comes more intense draft coverage.

The draft once took place inside hotel ballrooms with a few dozen people. It went from the Waldorf Astoria hotel in 1979 to Madison Square Garden in the mid-'90s and then Radio City Music Hall in the mid-2000s. Recently it's been hosted in Chicago and Philadelphia. This year, it's at AT&T Stadium where 100,000 people might watch it in person, and millions more from around the country.

The NFL draft was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City from 1995 to 2004.
The NFL draft was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City from 1995 to 2004.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The draft just gets bigger and bigger. The exposure gets bigger and bigger.

The similarity between football and politics, as it often has been, is striking. The influx of massive amounts of cash has transformed the NFL (just like politics). In some ways it has been for the better in the NFL with higher salaries for players, and in some ways it has been worse with higher prices for tickets. And more football, superficially, appeals to the sport's hardcore base (like me).

But at some point, doesn't the hardcore fan say: Even for me this is a lot of football?

Maybe I'm wrong, and the near-blanket draft coverage is a hit.

But why tempt fate? At some point it will be too much.

And that point may be here.

                

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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