- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Many decades from now, folks will look back and ponder the phenomenon known as the NFL. They will marvel at the league’s keen marketing ability and wild success at drawing viewers for any programming related to “the shield.”

Fake games (the preseason). Drills and workouts (the combine). Drawn-out roll calls (the draft). The level of fanaticism is amazing.

Yes, it’s all relative. Fans don’t rip out toilets and hurl them from the stands, striking and killing someone as happened last week during a soccer riot in Brazil. We don’t see the full-scale, mass brawls that erupt between international “football” fans. (Our violence usually is contained to a few spectators in one section or an ugly encounter in the parking lot.)

Historians will apply a rationale for the most-puzzling aspects of the NFL’s popularity. The combine doesn’t have real action, but at least players are running, passing and catching. Exhibition games are meaningless and filled with soon-to-be truck drivers, but fans are starved after a six-month hibernation.

However, the chroniclers won’t have a good explanation for the NFL draft, which begins tonight after months of player analysis, team assessments and multiple mocks.


SEE ALSO: Running down Redskins’ options with no first-round pick


The three-day event is getting 16 hours of live coverage on ESPN; NFL Network is devoting a whopping 51 hours of live coverage.

I’ll figure out how the pyramids were built before I understand the draft’s TV appeal.

The first round consists of commissioner Roger Goodell reading a name roughly every 10 minutes during a process that drags for over three hours. Rounds 2 and 3 are slightly less tedious, as teams mercifully are limited to seven and five minutes, respectively, to make their selections.

By Saturday, when the ordeal concludes with rounds 4-7, the players are increasingly obscure. The video highlights are most viewers’ first glimpse of those late-round picks — not that the prospects’ NFL prospects are any clearer.

With 32 teams, seven rounds and extra time to announce a few trades, “the action” takes about an hour in real time: “With the blank pick of the blank round, so-and-so selects fill-in-the- blank.”

Just repeat it 224 times.

That drama was riveting enough to draw 7.7 million cumulative viewers across ESPN and NFL Network for the first round last year, winning the sought-after demographic of adults 18-49.

This year’s draft has been pushed back into the May TV sweeps that set advertising rates. The delay was due to an anticipated scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall — if you believe Goodell — but there’s likely no rush to do it in April again.

Keeping the draft in May expands the NFL calendar. And this league wants to stretch itself to the snapping point. There will be 16 Thursday night games in the upcoming season and Goodell said adding a fourth day to the draft is possible.

“We’re looking at a lot of options with respect to the draft to create even more excitement around the draft,” he told NFL Media last month.

Assuming that they’re always looking for programming that might attract more eyeballs, here are some better ideas to consider (all rights reserved):

“The Air Up Here”: Camera crews stake out nosebleed sections at stadiums across the country. Viewers are treated to the same obscenity-laced shouting matches and drunken brawls, plus a vantage point that reminds us of miniature football sets.

“Blood, Sweat & Grass Stains”: Behind-the-scenes with locker room attendants. They know the deal behind every piece of equipment, scarred helmet and ripped jersey. Their stories are interspersed with video highlights of the plays and players in question.

“Down & Ouch”: The trainer’s table stays busy. From bumps and bruises to bones and ligaments, we see the true cost of playing in the NFL. This series would be tape-delayed to limit foes’ competitive advantage and any hanky-panky by the wiseguys in Vegas.

“Lights in the Film Room”: Some players love to study tape. Whether it’s noon or midnight, we’ll be right there, watching them work that clicker. Viewers can impress their friends during Sunday Night Football by beating Cris Collinsworth to the punch.

“Leading the Cheers: A Sideline View”:NFL teams have dedicated young ladies whose enthusiasm and love for the game is … who are we kidding? This vehicle is simply an excuse to zoom in on the cheerleading squads as they do their thing. Duh.

Granted, these reality-TV concepts might not be Emmy material.

But they will beat the draft’s ratings if I control the remote.

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