Drafty In Here

I’ve got to hand it to the NFL in one respect. They’ve somehow managed to persuade the world that their draft is an event worth watching. All three days and seven rounds. Over two hundred selections.

If it was just the first round, I could almost understand it. That’s where the big name players, the ones capable of improving a team all by themselves, get selected. (And in the NFL, unlike MLB, there aren’t any minor leagues. The players selected this month will be on the field in preseason games come August. That’s a powerful motivator: it’s not “Wait until next year,” it’s “Wait until this year.”)

Just to be clear here, I didn’t see much of it, only a little bit in the middle of the first round, and the last few players of the final round. Nor was it by choice: it was on the break room TV when I was eating lunch.

Which is kind of my point, I suppose. My co-workers were riveted to the set. Okay, maybe not riveted, but at least stapled.

And I don’t get it. How does the NFL convince fans to keep watching something that moves only slightly faster than a forty-year old designated hitter?

It’s not the “Mr. Irrelevant” award. (Yes, really. There’s an award for the last player picked.) If that was all people cared about, they’d watch the first round, then tune out until the end of the seventh round.

I can’t believe a significant audience really believes a fifth round pick will be so important to their team’s performance that they’ll watch the other thirty-one teams make their selections–at least two hours in the later rounds and up to five hours in the first round–just so they can cheer for ten seconds.

Amazingly, it’s not done with the standard attention-getters. Very few skimpily dressed women (or men, for that matter), not much thundering rock music, no booze or other drugs outside of the same commercials running everywhere.

It’s not even schadenfreude, neither taking pleasure in seeing who doesn’t get picked (you could do that by watching just the last round) or in the horrible choices made by your opponents (because you don’t know they’re any worse than your team’s picks–and half the time you were probably hoping they’d remain available long enough for your team to grab them with their next pick.)

It’s not even the drama of the situation. Commentators speculating in voice-over about who’s going to get picked while the screen shows a few people in suits leaning over computers and talking quietly isn’t drama. Maybe it’s exciting the first two or three times, but after twelve hours over two days, it’s old hat.

How do they do it?

And how do we convince them to put the same level of effort and attention to detail to work on protecting the players’ health after the draft?

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