In this day and age of social media’s gauntlet of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and You Tube, not to mention the 24-hour news cycle of TV networks, print media, blogs, Yahoo, TMZ and everybody’s DotComs, we have more than enough information, misinformation, images and clutter crashing upon us to send anyone into a dark room in search of quiet and peace of mind.
With all that said, did the NFL really have to crank up a Disney-worthy, Star Wars mega-movie premier-like production to get our attention for the recent college draft?
I’m not sure what the NFL is so worried about when it comes to keeping their loyal fans hooked on the shield like a 13-year-old on Fortnite.
That’s the point. The NFL is smart enough to always be working and not take its position as the national sports pastime and passion for granted. League executives like to read the tea leaves and stay five years ahead of the trends so they continue to be the most popular sports and entertainment property in the country.
And without question the NFL is.
It continues to dominate TV ratings against all comers and continually has its primetime games (Sunday and Monday nights) in the weekly Top 10 most watched television shows.
The NFL is a behemoth with a brand so sticky fans are attached at birth and stay for life. But like House Lannister and Stark, along with the Mother of Dragons, the league is aware of kinks in its armor.
Two years ago, the ratings slumped from the kneeling and protesting during the pregame national anthem. The game took a huge PR hit when fans likened the player’s actions to being unpatriotic and anti-military.
President Trump seized on the opportunity to engage his core supporters by demanding that the owners “fire those SOBs” (the players who kneel during the Anthem).
It was a political fire storm that the NFL took two seasons to get out from under. The league lost fans and goodwill in the process.
The latest concern has to be code of conduct by players and, yes, even ownership. The Kansas City Chiefs have been at the epicenter of this with former running back Akeem Hicks’ domestic violence case, and now current Chiefs receiver Tarek Hill’s child abuse allegations. That’s not to mention more drug suspensions, and, of course, the sordid solicitation charges still pending against Patriots owner Robert Kraft down in Florida.
These are surely headaches for commissioner Roger Goodell, who is a master at spinning the narrative to keep the NFL in the best possible light while it sorts through the ongoing investigations.
That seems to be his main job the last few years, and he has done it quite well.
So, to keep everyone thinking good, happy and cheery thoughts, the NFL upped the ante on its annual draft week and put on a show resembling the Grammys, Emmys and Oscars all wrapped into one with three days of national live coverage from Nashville.
Since taking the NFL Draft on the road four years ago, the league has made sure it has far exceeded anything done before in Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas. If you’re hoping and waiting for it to land in New Orleans in the years to come, you may not get your wish unless they change the dates. Right now, the draft falls on the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which commands a lot of hotel rooms and the city’s focus.
It has gone from simple green rooms to red carpet walks, celebrity type pre-event interviews, bands on stage, blimp coverage from above and an estimated 300,000 people crammed into downtown Nashville — not to see George Strait, Garth Brooks or Luke Bryan, but to cheer on players they have never heard of and could not recognize if they tackled them on the streets.
I was waiting for ESPN/ABC, owned by Disney of course, to trot out the Avengers on the podium with Goodell. They missed a great opportunity to cross promote the opening and premier of Marvel’s latest blockbuster Avengers: End Game. I would have wanted to see if Captain America, shield and all, could block LSU linebacker Devin White and if Ant Man was actually taller than Kyler Murray.
Or why not have Olaf, from Frozen 2, in the green room backstage keeping the shrimp cocktails chilled for the assembled players and agents?
I get why the league wants to put on a spectacle such as we saw from Nashville. It’s the NFL, and any show that carries its banner has to be big, flashy and hard to ignore. That’s how they keep the media and fans engaged in the product year-round.
Once the Super Bowl ends, the league’s PR machine kicks in with the owners’ meeting. Then it moves on to the free agent signing period, followed by the build-up to draft week. Our lust for the NFL will soon continue with May mini-camps, off-season contract negotiations and upcoming preseason camps in July.
The league wants you thinking and talking about the Saints and Cowboys, the No Call in the Dome and Russell Wilson’s record-setting contract year-round. The process sells tickets, merchandise and TV packages. The NFL Draft and the show it has become is second only to the Super Bowl.
I have always loved the draft for its unpredictability, story lines, drama, strategy and the fact that it provides an open season to second guess the so-called experts (NFL coaches and general managers) who know good and well that selecting and projecting college players to the pros is akin to their best educated guess.
The latest wrinkle the last few years is what crazy, damaging video on high draft picks will come to light via Twitter or Instagram.
We’ve had a player caught on video smoking pot using a gas mask. Several more were filmed punching a defenseless woman or running from police only to be tackled and bounced off a sidewalk.
It’s highly embarrassing for the players involved, but didn’t seem to hurt their draft stock any, and made for tantalizing television.
This year’s draft lacked the depth of stars of last year’s and the quarterback quandary. The big story was settled with the first pick, when the Arizona Cardinals did indeed select Murray, the much debated and dissected 5-foot, 10-inch Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Oklahoma.
Ex-Tiger Devin White went as projected at No. 5 to Tampa Bay, while teammate cornerback Greedy Williams fell to No. 46 in the second round to Cleveland, where he will be in good company with former LSU stars Odell Beckham, Jr., and Jarvis Landry. It does make me wonder whether Williams has second thoughts about leaving LSU early after falling from the big-money first round.
The most intriguing head scratcher came from the New York football Giants, who chose lightly regarded Duke quarterback Daniel Jones for the sixth overall pick. They bypassed quarterbacks Dewayne Haskins from Ohio State and Missouri’s Drew Lock, both from larger conference programs with proven stats that blew away any numbers Jones put up at Duke.
Eli Manning is on his last rodeo ride in New York, and the Giants take a quarterback from a basketball school who appears to be a Nathan Peterman lookalike.
In defense of the move, no one thought Tom Brady, who was taken in the sixth round, would amount to much for New England. It proves again the draft is a giant guessing game, and solving the quarterback riddle is the most difficult part of the game.
For the New Orleans Saints, this draft was all about finding grinders in the middle to late rounds to plug holes, and with some luck, find a steal or two in the process.
The Saints moved up in the second round to take Texas A&M center Erik McCoy from nearby Lufkin, Texas, to help with depth. It’s not eye-popping or flashy, but it is a critical step in keeping the team’s foundation strong.
Coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis have been steady in their approach to building and reloading the Saints from the inside out. They focus on drafting and trading for top talent on the offensive and defensive lines and move outward to the skill positions at receiver and running backs.
It helps when you’ve had your quarterback spot anchored for 13 years by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, who is still playing at a very high level at the age of 40.
And speaking of age, the NFL has embarked on its 100th season. And there’s no better way to help celebrate than with a Hollywood production wrapped around a street party that rivaled Mardi Gras, if only in number.
The league continues to flex its marketing muscle, which has squashed yet another spring football league (Alliance of American Football). The AAF went belly-up bankrupt midway through its first year, opening the door for the second coming of the XFL in the spring of 2020.
I suspect the Vince McMahon-led XFL will meet a similar fate.
When will they learn? You can’t compete with or around the NFL even when it’s just reloading rosters from the college ranks or hyping off-season news.
The league may be a century old, but it is constantly reinventing itself with the glitz of Hollywood and the brawn of the game that, for better or worse, still commands our sports attention and appetite 365/24/7.
Rick Sarro’s perspectives and commentary can be heard on Soundoff 60 Monday through Sunday evenings at 9 pm broadcast on channel 4 on Suddenlink.