The wide world of sports has become a narrow strip — boxing from Nicaragua, with the possibility of baseball from South Korea and soccer from Germany.
However, the NFL threw us a tasty morsel last week. For two nights and one day, sports fans could savor the NFL draft.
And savor it, we did. The average television audience during Round 1 of the draft was 15.6 million, a 37 percent increase over the average audience last year and a 26 percent increase over the 2014 NFL draft, which set the previous record for viewership.
The second night also set a record. Viewership, 10 million at its peak, spiked 40 percent from last year.
The League had to modify some things. It couldn’t turn the draft into a festival in a chosen city (which would have been Las Vegas). It couldn’t wine and dine top players and then treat them to an Academy Awards type show, complete with hugs from the commissioner. The players had to celebrate at home with their family and friends (more on this below). That’s not a bad thing in my view, but many players probably would have preferred it the other way.
Personnel from the various teams couldn’t huddle up, a dozen strong or more, in a “war room.” Instead, coaches and general managers conducted the draft from home, with television cameras present.
With apologies to the revelers who missed out on the partying in Vegas and the players who missed out on the red carpet treatment, the absence of hoopla made the draft more enjoyable for me. I’ve always thought that the essence of the draft is the selection of players and the analysis that goes into the process.
With less fluff to cover, the talking heads (a combined crew from ESPN and the NFL Network) seemed to devote a little more time to telling us about the players who were drafted and how they might fit the teams that drafted them. Or maybe there was the same amount of analysis but less distraction. Either way, for nerds like me, this draft seemed more pure than normal.
I also liked the fact that instead of seeing a bunch of guys sitting in a “war room,” we got to enjoy seeing the kids of many of the coaches and GMs hanging out with their dads. The kids all rated five stars on the cuteness scale. May draft war rooms become a thing of the past.
My only complaint was that the NFL, and corporate America generally, seldom missed an opportunity to preach about the pandemic. We were told ad nauseam that “we’re all in this together,” that “we will get through this,” that we all need to do our part by staying inside, etc. After the first night, I watched the draft on tape so I could fast forward through the pandemic cliches.
Speaking of social distancing, some of the draftees seem not to have been interested in it. As I understand things, the NFL guidelines provided that there should be no more than six people in the room where players waited to hear who would draft them. Moreover, anyone in the room who didn’t live in the house was supposed to stay more than six feet away from the player and his household members.
The first player picked, Joe Burrow, observed the protocol. Only he and his parents were in the room.
For many of the remaining picks, however, it was party time, and understandably so. In some cases there were close to a dozen folks in the room, with kisses and hugs all around.
Reportedly, some player agents flew to their clients’ homes for the festivities. Here in the D.C. area, fans and friends flocked to the home of Chase Young, the Redskins first draft pick, and the player came outside to greet them at close quarters.
I can’t say I’m terribly disturbed by any of this. I just hope none of the homes was in New York City. Otherwise, some snitch might report the violations to Mayor de Blasio’s hotline.