Television coverage of the NFL draft dates back to 1980 when ESPN decided to provide live draft coverage. In the early days, the draft wasn’t exactly an interesting event, but over the past 34 years, the event has evolved into a fan-centric event.
Beginning in 2010, the NFL moved to a three-day format, making the first round a standalone event in primetime. The gamble paid off in a big way, and the format works very well. The second and third rounds are currently held in primetime on Friday, and the remaining four rounds are held at noon on Saturday.
The three-day format has worked so well, in fact, that the idea of a four-day format isn’t off the table. But is it a good idea?
A four-day format would likely look like this:
Thursday, 8 p.m. – Round 1
Friday, 8 p.m. – Round 2
Saturday, 7 p.m. – Rounds 3 and 4
Sunday, 12 p.m. – Rounds 5 through 7
The average NFL fan probably has a solid working knowledge of many of the players taken in the first couple of rounds of the draft. Because of this, fans don’t have to rely solely on the draft analysts’ opinions to judge whether any given selection was a good pick or not as they do the later rounds.
By lumping round four with round three, more fans are likely going to stick around to see a third day of the draft. As it stands, only die-hard fans actually come back for the third day, but by making the third day include the third round, which can still be considered relatively early in the event, more fans will show up on their couches to tune into ESPN and the NFL Network.
This format also opens the door to more in-depth coverage following round two. Instead of ESPN and the NFL Network using the hours after day two of the draft recapping two full rounds, those networks can focus on just round two, which often has many impact players just as the first round does. Then, they can analyze two middle rounds on day three instead of trying to pretend that the last four rounds of the draft contain future Hall of Famers. Okay, that may have been exaggerating what actually happens following the third day of the draft, but you get the point.
There’s no denying the success of the current format the NFL has instituted, but it could get better. I hate sitting around for hours on end, especially on day three. By breaking the draft into four days, it makes those last few rounds a little bit more bearable. In addition, the NFL gets another day in the limelight during the offseason, something the NFL likes to do whenever possible (the new Pro Bowl draft is just another example of pushing programming).
While the NFL does like to cater to its core fans on occasion, it’s the casual fans that bring in the most money for the league. Splitting the draft into four days allows the NFL to target those casual fans better than ever before. Even if those fans skip the last few rounds, a four-day format gives them three primetime nights of football in a row in early May. That sounds like a winning formula to me, and it’s something I’m sure the NFL is at least mulling over for use down the road.