The NFL has televised its draft since 1980, and soon after, the professional sports leagues realized they could sell the rights to their select shows to emerging cable networks hungry for content. In the four decades since, his rookie football appeal has far outstripped his athletic peers, giving the NFL Draft a popularity on par with the Grammy Awards headliner and bigger than HBO’s “Succession.”
For three days, a sport built on violent collisions holds what amounts to a football festival that trades in heart-rending stories and innocent fun. In last year’s draft, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — a burly former player — turned around to greet Devin Lloyd, the 6-foot-3 linebacker who had just been selected, and offered the usual handshake and hug. To Gödel’s shock, Lloyd bent down and snatched His new boss is off the ground in such a fluid motion that Goodell simply puts his feet back and bursts out laughing.
Afterward, Lloyd’s mother, Ronita Johnson, said she asked him to do it on a whim. “I just wanted to see if he could,” she said.
Moments like these can’t begin to justify why the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday in Kansas City, draws an audience of more than 11 million each year for broadcasts across four networks. Even at its worst, the draft is a success.
In 2021, when Goodell announced picks from a stage in Cleveland, cameras cut to the first player selected, whose name was expected to be called for the first time in months. Player, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, watched like the rest of America, from home. More television viewers turned up to witness this unofficial action than to see “Nomadland” win the Academy Award for Best Picture that year.
How did formal sports programs get this kind of cultural traction? Part of the answer lies in the stranglehold of football on our television screens. 22 of the NFL’s games have been in the top 25 primetime television in 2022, making sports the most reliable destination for watching anything the networks can cook up.
Football viewership was a major driver of its revenue, as the league’s talent turned America’s most popular sport into its most lucrative sport. The NFL signed media deals worth over $100 billion in 2021 and has since been signed $2 billion deal with YouTube to acquire the rights to broadcast Sunday’s matches. Amazon pays $1 billion to stream games on Thursdays, and this year the NFL will Add a game played on Black Friday For Prime shoppers at the tech giant. It will also air 75 hours of preseason coverage on the league-owned NFL Network, with more footage streamed on NFL+, the NFL app, NFL.com, and NFL Channel.
“There’s no other NFL,” said Jim Minich, senior vice president of revenue and revenue management for Disney Advertising. Minnich runs the group that sells advertising inventory for ESPN and ABC’s broadcasts of the three-day event, more than 35 hours of programming, which sold out this year and is expected to bring in $16 million for Disney. “There’s a lot of noise this time of year, and the NFL is getting over it.”
As evidence, Minnich offered a statistic: The number of people searching online for draft advertisers was 41 percent higher than the average primetime broadcaster. He attributed this to the storytelling. The NFL schedules every 15 minutes, and to fill the time in between, the networks air short biographies of the just-picked player. In this way, viewers go on a short emotional journey that leads to a satisfying finale (tough guys in NFL caps ripping off and hugging their moms and dads).
An ESPN spokesperson said the network will produce 600 player highlight packages and has plans to zoom in on 50 live shots of leads while they wait to hear their names. This is after pundits in the sports media, on barstools and message boards spent three months predicting which team would want which player.
As with award shows and beauty pageants, the NFL Draft gets really exciting when the cameras roll on the contestants named it’s not named. When Aaron Rodgers was passed over for the top pick in 2005 by the San Francisco 49ers, the team he spent his childhood rooting for, he spent four hours agonizing in front of television cameras until the Green Bay Packers took him down with the 24th pick.
Rodgers, then 21, said, “The Lord has taught me so much about humility and patience, and He has thrown both at me today.” Now 39 and four-time most valuable player in the NFL, he was recently traded to the Jets.
“It’s embarrassing.” for ESPN after his lengthy draft. “You know the whole world is watching, your phone rings every two minutes and you hope it’s a team call. But your buddies are just making jokes, and it’s hard to laugh in a situation where you know everyone’s laughing at you.”
Confusion can give stranded players an obvious focal point for the buildup, while invisible coaches and holster holders decide their future. Although the league pays for the players’ airfare and hotel costs to make the draft trip for the live show, they are not paid to appear.
In some cases, agents advise against showing up, lest the player be humiliated by an embarrassing televised wait. Only 17 of the 259 players to be drafted planned to attend the event and sit in the enclosed green room/fish tank. Those who attend will do so for much the same reason college seniors sit through commencement speeches: The ceremony, though uncomfortable, is a symbolic finish line.
Bryce Young, an Alabama quarterback who is expected to be the top pick in this year’s draft, He said he expected Tonight to be “surreal”.
“I walk across that stage and hear your name called,” he said, “and I’m going to be able to experience that with my family, which is such a blessing and a moment that I cherish and be grateful for.”
The massive audience at such a moment also provides the player’s first big opportunity to showcase their character for mass consumption.
“A lot of these guys on draft night are really trying to make a name, trying to impress,” said GQ senior fashion writer Cam Wolf, adding that sponsorship and branding opportunities await athletes who make the right clothing choices.
The tipping point came in 2016, Wolf said, when Ezekiel Elliott, a runner who liked to wear crop tops while preparing for college games at Ohio State, opened a blue shawl-lined blue suit jacket to reveal a custom button. It is shortened at the diaphragm. And soon Elliot’s muscles were wallpapering the Internet.
Wolfe said viewers “watch it for clothing, but not for style inspiration,” noting that GQ has ramped up its coverage of the NFL Draft red carpet in the years since. “They want to be part of the discourse, and costumes are an easy way to do that,” he added.
It’s very different from the X and O conversation flopping NFL game days, when those same athletes are in uniform, trying to stand out with a big catch or a flammable tackle. There’s a huge audience for that, too. The NFL now has games on four of the seven days a week, for six months of the season, which was extended in 2021 by an extra week.
And when there are no games to play, the NFL, like the Marvel franchise and known universe, finds other ways to expand.
Ken Bilson Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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