Grading the Social-Distancing NFL Draft

May 12, 2020

Ric Rogers

With an education in broadcast communications, and long tenure in hospitality, Ric has been leading events in the IT marketplace for over twenty years. As program director for SAP TechEd his interests continue to run toward message delivery. Ric spends his days creating engaging event experiences and strategies designed to bring value to both the customer and the company.

The annual NFL Draft has become an event that cannot be ignored. The pundits love to talk about how they hate mock drafts. Then they love to point out that grades are pointless. But the public consumption and demand is such that there is no way any credible reporter or publication can avoid participating.  

The NFL Draft began as an event conducted over the phone, and then via fax machines, then a single-day newscaster-like TV broadcast before becoming the interactive multimedia behemoth it is today. And as an events planner it has been intriguing to watch the evolution of the draft into a three-day live event with fans, multimedia, online interaction and legions of various chapters across the U.S.

As everyone knows, the in-person aspect of the event was removed this year.  I was fascinated to see how the NFL would evolve once again, this time from producing a stage show in Las Vegas (complete with gondolas) to acting as remote one-on-one hosts as we watched from our living rooms.

In short, it was good, but it wasn’t all that I wanted. 

To the grades!

Technology: A / Exceptional

There’s no doubt about it. Everything went off without a hitch.  Considering the dry run a couple days before the draft is rumored to have had multiple glitches, the fact that everything worked as planned is an achievement in and of itself.  The whole thing had the opportunity to be the most epic and consummate fail of the digital age.  That it was fundamentally a resounding success should ease the minds of anyone with a vested interest in planning and delivering virtual programs anytime in the near future.

Interest: B / Exceeds expectations

The human interest element was still there. Television coverage included many of the same aspects and background stories people have been accustomed to seeing over the years. Seeing the positive emotions of the players with their families was heart-warming. Getting a glimpse into the private lives of NFL coaches and executives was an unanticipated bonus. Personally, I didn’t miss the drama of watching a 20-something sit in the green room “sliding” all the way from an eight-figure salary to a seven-figure salary (oh the drama). So in general, the content was good.

Community: C+ / Slightly exceeds expectations

Social distancing had a profound impact on the experience. The NFL tried some great things, but they missed that this event was primarily about the fans. I really wanted the community aspect to be amped up, but instead it felt like fan participation was an afterthought. Some of the positives: a screen showing a social media wall in League Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement. Piped-in audio booing, in an attempt to lighten the mood. There were times when a fan or local interest introduced the next choice. But it wasn’t consistent. They could have leveraged chat rooms and social scrolls way more effectively — if not on the TV, then online or in the app. For events, peer-to-peer networking is always a motivating factor, and this one left me feeling less engaged and more disconnected.

Virtual: C- / Slightly below expectations

As I alluded above, there was a missed opportunity here. The draft was online, but not in a way that encouraged anyone to do anything more than follow along — which is all they have ever done.  I have seen jokes about Roger Goodell appearing like Max Headroom.  Well…why the heck not?! Embrace that. In the virtual world this would have been great! Some ideas for what they could have done: use Zoom room backgrounds. Get crazy with animations and 3D representation. Get into gamification somehow. Many teams were hosting virtual draft parties on Facebook pages. Stop thinking “TV” and start thinking “virtual.”

Overall grade: B / Exceeded expectations

It was close to being a B-/C+. But in the end the NFL delivered most of the groceries, and in this day and age that’s not easy anymore. Hopefully they learned some lessons (like how to not take themselves so seriously all the time). Going in I was energized by the thought of seeing a live event turn into an amazing virtual experience (and what I could steal from that). But as an event planner, customer satisfaction is one of my number one KPIs. The fact that my guests got what they wanted and needed, and scored the event highly, bumps up the grade. 


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