The first round of the NFL draft ran an almost perfect 3 hours and 31 minutes, dominating social media and most likely garnering the highest TV ratings of any program from the 8-11:30 ET time slot. Yes, the draft ran just as it was supposed to, but if you are paying close attention, it seemed as if the NFL was holding back on announcing draft picks to make sure the program didn’t run short.
Multiple times the “pick is in” graphic flashed across the screen and then the ESPN or NFL Media broadcast would cut to commercial, or analysts would continue discussing the previous pick. Some members of the media even broke rank and tweeted out picks several minutes before the picks were announced on television. If the pick was in, and the NFL had everything, why didn’t it just announce the player and move on?
A possible reason could be that the NFL was helping itself, ESPN and advertisers. Paying for draft day ad placement is not cheap. It isn’t the Super Bowl, but it probably exceeds the cost of typical spot Thursday night on ESPN or NFL Network. ESPN, and in turn advertisers, paid a premium to cover or advertise during the draft. If the draft ran 30 minutes short, that would have meant fewer eyeballs and less time for premium ad placements.
Another reason for the waiting could have been the lack of trades. If teams are swapping picks, they get extra time on the clock. In this case, with little to no trade movement, the draft moved at a swifter pace, faster than the NFL or its partners probably wanted. In reality, the Patriots had their pick officially in about 15 minutes before it was announced on television.
Factor in the NFL’s request to its partners to hold back tweets until the picks were announced on television and it all makes sense. The NFL was protecting the business interests of its broadcast partners, sponsors and advertisers. Now if they could just find a way to refund the 30 minutes of missed sleep to east coast viewers, everyone could have won.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.