NFL broadcasts first virtual draft

Vegas lights are not shining

Millions tuned in to watch Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League, announce the first round picks of the first-ever virtual NFL Draft on Apr. 23. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, Goodell announced each name from the comfort of his own home rather than under the bright lights of Las Vegas, where the draft was originally supposed to be held.

                                                                                Shashi Arnold
As usual, the broadcast showed the elated reactions of players as they heard their names called. But this year, players were at home celebrating with their families instead of walking on stage to shake Goodell’s hand or give him a big hug. On the first night of the draft, the NFL had cameras in nearly 60 prospective players’ homes, along with those of coaches and general managers calling the shots for their teams. This “really humanized the NFL draft in a way that hadn't happened previously,” Mark Maske, an NFL reporter for The Washington Post, wrote in an email to Silver Chips.

With much of the country ordered to stay home due to the pandemic, the broadcast crushed previous records for the amount of people watching. At the height of the broadcast, over 19.6 million football fans watched their favorite NFL teams select from a field of talented college athletes, with an average of about 15.6 million watching for most of the night—a 37 percent increase from last year. Days two and three also set records for the amount of viewers, with 8.2 million on day two and 4.2 million on day three, according to Maske.

Joe Burrow, Louisiana State University’s star quarterback and winner of the Heisman trophy, was taken first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. Ohio State defensive end and Prince George’s County native Chase Young was picked second by Washington.

The draft, however, focused on more than just the college football players. The pandemic played a large part in the broadcast, in commercials with players telling everyone to “stay strong” and “stay safe.” Additionally, a video of Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the nation’s leading voices during the pandemic, aired at the beginning of the broadcast.

The NFL hosted “Draft-a-Thon” to raise money to “help provide relief to the many who are suffering as well as those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic around the nation,” according to the NFL Relief website. Over $6.9 million have been donated by fans around the world as of publication. 

To get people to donate, the NFL featured current and newly-drafted players, coaches, and other celebrities, including comedian Kevin Hart and record producer DJ Khaled, on live videos on the NFL website and social media accounts. 

“The celebrity star power was a contributing factor to the amount of money raised,” Maske wrote in an email. “But I also believe that this is such a shared experience for everyone in the country that people can truly empathize with those in need. I feel like the fundraising totals would have been very significant even without that celebrity factor.”

This draft was certainly different than any other before it, but viewers still tuned in to watch every night. “The NFL had to make a difficult decision about whether to move forward and have the draft or not,” Maske added. “But once that decision was made, things turned out better for the NFL than it could have hoped.” 

“People seemed to really like the human element of [the draft] and the little imperfections here and there. There was no major technical glitches. The TV ratings were huge. Viewers not only were given something to watch to ease their boredom. They were given some sense of things being somewhat normal amid the pandemic and the lockdowns.”

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