By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
April 25, 2013
The NFL Draft is upon us, and the league’s 32 teams are working tirelessly to improve the roster they put on the field. At the same time, the NFL and its broadcast partners are making sure that their spring selection process—now the league’s second-most popular special event behind the Super Bowl—continues to be appointment viewing with its millions of fans.
What started as a simple way for teams to select college players, the NFL Draft has grown into a big business over the last thirty years. In 2010, the league altered the draft schedule to make it a three-day event with the first two rounds airing in primetime. Last year, an average 8.1 million people watched first round draft coverage. The unpredictability of this year’s draft could make those ratings increase—or the lack of marquee names such as last year’s top quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III could mean that fewer people will tune in. It really depends on the year-round allure of the NFL, and the hunger for football fans are feeling three months removed from the season.
Combined, NFL Network and ESPN are producing 90 hours of live NFL Draft coverage. In order to protect the excitement of the broadcasts, analysts from both networks have pledged not to show players on their phones in the green room, or tweet picks before their names are announced. "Our fans have told us they would rather hear from the Commissioner and I think it is a better TV show when we speculate and let the Commissioner do it," ESPN NFL Senior Coordinating Producer Seth Markman told Sports Illustrated. "It goes against a lot of our instincts as journalists,” he added, “and it’s totally different than anything I deal with, but we feel like it is a win for the fans and our viewers."
Part of the draft’s growing popularity is sponsorship deals. NFL sponsor Tide plans to offer an endorsement deal to the first player drafted by each team. To commemorate a new partnership between St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the league, a St. Jude patient will join NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on stage to announce a pick during the first round. Even the film "Draft Day" featuring Kevin Costner will shoot live footage at Radio City Music Hall.
But our favorite NFL Draft tie-in has to be the new endorsement deal the University of Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, projected to go in the first round, signed with Subway. In Jones’ honor, Subway created a bust made entirely out of its food that bears a remarkable resemblance to the linebacker. Jones posed for photos with his deli doppelganger at a Midtown Manhattan Subway on Wednesday, and even took a turn behind the counter.
For Jones and other college standouts, being chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft is often the proudest moment in their lives—but it also ushers in a major transition in their personal and professional lives, one that can be fraught with anxiety and hubris. Accordingly, the athletes and the teams courting them would be well served to absorb the observations of Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, founder, chairman and CEO of the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programs, ComPsych Corporation (and himself a potential pro sports franchise owner).
Top draft picks are human beings that happened to be really good at a certain skill set, Chaifetz says. But the expectations that we have for them is that they really aren’t human, because we perceive these people as being wildly different from you and me.
In general, NFL teams should look for the same characteristics in their new hires that any savvy business looks for. “It’s really the culture, and a player’s ability to mesh with that culture, that will mean the difference between his success or failure,” Chaifetz emphasizes.
The top three characteristics that teams should look for in a player are, first, someone who has a passion to perform, and second, a history of impeccable character. “The best predictor of future performance is past performance,” Chaifetz notes. “Thinking that bad behavior is going away is a fantasy. Teams need to explore the risks in players’ lives.”
The third essential factor teams should look for in a prospect, he says, is persistence—the drive and willingness to push through to the next point or the next level.
“When a team attracts a superstar, he is immediately put on a pedestal by the media, fans, coaches, even the other players. As soon as he comes on board, it’s time to talk reality and time for the team to knock that player off his pedestal,” Chaifetz concludes. “In pro sports, as well as on Wall Street, we coddle our superstars to the point that we actually prevent them from maturing. We create a situation where they largely miss out on the reality of what it will be like when they actually have to compete.”
While teams work to build their rosters to remain as competitive as humanly possible on the field, as the 2013 NFL Draft unfolds, some franchises are making substantial progress improving their financial position off the field as well. No NFL offseason in recent memory has included so many teams working to renovate or build a new stadium. Among the teams: the Atlanta Falcons received approval to build a new $1 billion stadium; the Carolina Panthers are moving forward on a Bank of America Stadium renovation; and the Miami Dolphins are seeking public funds to modernize Sun Life Stadium.
New and renovated stadiums are important for NFL teams because they help generate a lot of money and are partially responsible for the league’s $9.5 billion in annual revenue. League revenue and the $1.1 billion average franchise value are expected to increase in coming years as new TV contracts and sponsorship deals go into effect.
Not a bad time to be a NFL stakeholder.