The NFL suffered from declining television ratings across the board this season. Pretty much every game window, every network, every night of the week, and even every round of the playoffs was down from its high point a few years ago. It’s been talked about ad nauseam this year with an unlimited array of reasons given for it. The simplest may jsut be that it’s regressing to the mean after years of unprecedented growth. And to tell the truth, the NFL is still in an insanely strong position compared to pretty much everything else that is televised.
But the NFL clearly still feels like they need to do something to reverse the ratings slide. And when it comes to solutions, what is happening with the NFL Draft seems like one of the most counter-productive ideas possible.
Apparently the NFL thinks that their problem is that there just aren’t enough people that have access to the NFL Draft. This is in spite of constant months-long coverage from every major sports outlet and two major networks (ESPN and NFL Network) televising the entire draft. This year the network has made it as complicated as quantum mechanics to try to figure out who all is televising it. The Fox broadcast network simulcast to the equation of the NFLN feed for Rounds 1-3. ESPN2 is doing a separate feed from ESPN for Round 1. AND there will be a simulcast of the ESPN feed on ABC broadcast television for Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.
Got all that straight? Good. Because the NFL may not be done yet.
According to the Sporting News, the NFL’s agreement with Fox and ESPN allows the draft to be simulcasted on EVEN MORE networks. Specifically, the league has specifically opened the door for the draft to one day also be broadcasted on NBC and CBS broadcast channels. Why? Because the league wants the draft to be on the level of the presidential election. Seriously. (Bold emphasis added.)
And as the annual football festival grows in popularity, some league executives envision the draft potentially becoming the sports equivalent of a U.S. presidential election — a sports event televised simultaneously across most or all of the national broadcast networks: NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN’s sister Disney network ABC.
This year’s event will be televised by a record six TV entities, including two broadcast channels (Fox and ABC) and four cable networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and NFL Network). ABC will simulcast ESPN’s coverage of Rounds 4-7 on Saturday. That means all seven rounds will air on broadcast television for the first time.
That’s one of the key provisos, said sources. If the league’s other broadcast partners eventually want the draft, they would likely have to televise it on their main broadcast channels, not their smaller sports cable networks. In other words, NBC Sports would have to show it on NBC, not NBCSN, and so forth. Fox is airing it this year on so-called “big Fox” rather than its FS1/FS2 cable channels.
The NFL has clearly never heard of the phrase “less is more,” have they.
I can think of few things further detached from reality than the NFL actually envisioning the draft (again, not the Super Bowl, not even a game, but the draft) being on the same level as the presidential election. Because the Titans selecting a tight end from Grand Vallley State with a Round 6 compensatory pick definitely carries the same weight as electing the leader of the free world.
This is just a bad idea all the way around. This year’s super-sized coverage already seems like way too much, especially considering the draft only drew 4.9 million average viewers between ESPN and NFL Network over the course of the three day event last year. Even the primetime coverage of Round 1 on Thursday night only drew 9.2 combined million viewers last year. That’s less than 10% of what the Super Bowl drew and is far from what the typical NFL Sunday audience draws.
We’ve already written about why the league’s plans for over-saturation could be more harmful than beneficial in the long run. And that was before the news that the NFL could move the draft to ABC, Fox, NBC, CBS, ESPN, ESPN2, NFL Network, HGTV, truTV, FXX, Disney, and RFD TV. What’s the best case scenario for the league here? Even if they double the audience for the draft it’s less than 20 million viewers. And who knows how many people they will turn off in the process. The casual fan flipping through the channels isn’t going to sit down to listen to Mike Mayock give a detailed scouting report on the fast twitch muscles of a defensive end from Purdue. If those people see it on every network, they’re going to get frustrated and turn on Netflix faster than you can say Lemony Snicket.
The league already suffers from an over-saturation problem and it looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s like the NFL is sinking in quicksand and instead of staying calm, the league is trying anything imaginable to get out. In the end, it may only cause them to sink further.