The NFL should figure out player compensation for NFL Draft appearances

A lot of football players talk about their dream of walking across the stage to shake the commissioner’s hand on draft day. They grab their new team’s jersey. They throw on the officially licensed cap. They get interviewed by ESPN or NFL Network. It’s all part of the process. It’s a tradition. It’s a ritual. Here’s what business managers should be telling their clients: it’s overrated.

Players should stay home or make an appearance at a local venue, bar, club or somewhere they can sell tickets. Players should be draped in their endorsement partners’ clothing. They should be drinking energy drinks from companies that pay for exposure. They should be taking their first call from their new team with Beats headphones in their ears.

It’s all content. Someone is going to cover it. If ESPN or NFL Network doesn’t want to send a camera there, who cares? Players should put clips of their draft day on Instagram. Show everything on Facebook Live. Post updates on Twitter. The NFLPA is probably already on top of this, and they know how to produce content. They have the partners in place to get their players in front of fans. The NFL isn’t the only content producer in town anymore.

There’s little reason for a player to attend the NFL other than the nostalgia or tradition. There’s no money in it for the players. The NFL knows this. It’s why they are suddenly willing to pay for players’ high school coaches to attend the draft gratis. Every expense will be paid for by the NFL.

Players are becoming more business savvy. They know how to leverage their own brands. They know that new media is a two-way street and that the audience the players are trying to connect with can be reached through social media. There are two options: attend the NFL Draft for free and live by the NFL’s restrictions, or make a ton of money and celebrate the draft how players see fit. Seems like a pretty easy answer.

These young players have leverage too. The NFL is making the draft into its own marquee event. It’s a traveling circus going from city to city bringing in fans from far and wide. It’s not just about someone calling a name now. It’s a party. Imagine that party without players. That’s not as cool of a party. It’s not an event for fans if they can’t see their new star walk across that stage.

The NFL is essentially using these players for free. The league gets all the benefits. There are no appearance fees paid to the players. They show up, get some travel benefits, and make money for the league. As the NFL Draft becomes a bigger event — and those plans are already in motion — the players need to realize that they are in a position of leverage. They are professionals. Nothing should be done for free. The NFL and its owners try to save every penny. They are interested in their profits. Players should be interested in their own situation as well.

That’s why the NFL needs to think quickly about the next steps it will take to continue the draft’s growth. That’s why the league is making the loyalty play with a cool experience for the players’ high school coaches. That’s eventually not going to be enough. This is a business. The NFL operates as such. The players should — and eventually will — operate as such. That may mean appearance fees. It may mean some type of increased benefits. But the NFL needs to figure out something before the players truly realize their bargaining power in this situation.

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