- - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Do you feel a draft? If not get ready, because the NFL is about to blow.

Beginning with Thursday’s first round, we’ll experience drastically expanded coverage of this year’s choose-em-up.

Rounds 1-2 will be aired via simultaneous broadcasts on ESPN, NFL Network and a newcomer, Fox. For the first time, ABC will simulcast ESPN’s coverage of rounds 4-7 on Saturday. This year also will be the first in which every round of the draft airs on network TV.

“The NFL Draft is a unique event on the NFL calendar where the promise and excitement of the future is universally felt among fans, players and clubs,” NFL chief media officer Brian Rolapp said in a statement last month.

(Just wondering: Do fans in Cleveland also experience the promise and excitement? Or is that outweighed by fear and dread, with the Browns poised to spend a first-round pick on a quarterback for the fourth time since 2007?)

“We are excited for the opportunity to meet that demand with expanded draft coverage including a record six television networks, while deepening the relationship with our trusted broadcast partners ESPN and Fox,” Rolapp said.

Whenever officials talk about deeper relationships with a network, they really mean reaching deeper into a network’s pockets.

And no entity is as adept as the NFL at extracting deposits from broadcasters.

Even though television ratings for the NFL have fallen 19 percent over the past two seasons, Fox is doubling down. In addition to airing the draft for the first time, it also won rights to “Thursday Night Football.”

If Fox is that dedicated to broadcasting actual football games, it might as well add the annual beauty pageant/game show known as the draft. It makes perfect sense, even if our obsession with the procession is questionable.

The NFL draft isn’t the only TV show with huge viewership that makes me go, “Huh?” Most so-called reality shows fall in that category (although I’m a fan of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”). Last year, 6.7 million viewers watched the first round on ESPN while 2.5 million watched on NFL Network.

Credit — or blame — ESPN for creating this unintended spectacle.

The fledgling network was simply looking for cheap programming and a relationship with the NFL when it approached then-commissioner Pete Rozelle in 1979 and asked to telecast the draft. Rozelle was skeptical of the production’s value, likening it to reading names out of a phone book.

The 1980 draft broadcast started at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. But ESPN took that lump of coal, rubbed it with Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair spray, and came away with a mine that produces NFL diamonds between the Super Bowl and the start of training camps. It also spawned a cottage industry rife with scouting websites, mock drafts and big boards.

Putting the show on the road in 2015 was a brilliant stroke by the NFL. Cities now bid on the draft like it’s the Super Bowl. After a two-year stint in Chicago, the draft was held in Philadelphia last year and drew a reported 70,000 for the first round.

This year’s event at Jerry’s World, aka AT&T Stadium, is expected to draw more than 250,000 fans to draft festivities. It’s the first time the draft is being staged at an NFL stadium, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is determined to prove everything’s bigger in Texas.

But when you strip away the concerts, exhibits, contests, interactive games, player appearances, and assorted activities surrounding the draft, everything boils down to a dozen words repeated 224 times:

“With the (fill-in-the-number) pick of the (fill-in-the-number) round, the (fill-in-the-team) select (fill-in-the-player).”

Riveting drama, it’s not.

A few years ago, I suggested NFL-themed reality shows that could be successful as counter-programming, titles such as “Down & Ouch,” “Lights in the Film Room,” and “Blood, Sweat & Grass Stains.”

Those offerings probably wouldn’t dent ratings for the first round, but they could be golden when Saturday rolls arounds and the picks are more obscure.

But congratulations to all the young men who’ll receive phone calls and hear their name announced this weekend. The draft is a culmination of their hard work and dedication. Being among the select 224 is an extraordinary accomplishment considering the hundreds of thousands who had the same childhood dream.

After all the drills, weightlifting, practices and games, from peewees to the preps to college, being drafted is a reward onto itself.

Even if the Cleveland Browns select you.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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