The Business of Sports

NFL Draft's Media Circus


1. In 2010, NFL Draft Drafting Off Other NFL Headlines

In 2004, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from Division 1 Miami University of Ohio was drafted as the 11th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Proving that the NFL Draft is perhaps the greatest leveling device in history (outside of death, taxes, and Dancing with the Stars), the Mid-American Conference star didn't disappoint on the field, leading the Steelers to two Super Bowl victories and helping the franchise earn "Team of the Decade" distinction.

This week's NFL Draft in New York City will make dozens of football players' dreams come true—just as it did for Roethlisberger. A record 16 players accepted invitations to attend the event at Radio City Music Hall, which for the first time begins on a Thursday in prime time, broadcast live on ESPN and stretching over two days. But how many of these NFL almost-rookies will face even more intense scrutiny over their leadership, character, and off-field conduct because of Roethlisberger's shameful free-time behavior, resulting in a six-week suspension by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

What's more, will the Roethlisberger sanctions and ever-tightening NFL code of conduct eventually have a dramatic impact on players' wallets?

Painstaking Quest

Character issues or no, finding the right multimillionaire rookie is a business unto itself at all 32 NFL franchises. "In the quest for the perfect player, Jets scouts visited 232 colleges, evaluated 1,346 players, and wrote 5,600 reports," wrote William Rhoden in Monday's New York Times. "They interviewed 366 players, either at the combine or here at their facility." But even after all this painstaking work, the success rate for first-round draft picks is only a relatively disappointing 37.4%. To determine this, we looked at NFL drafts from 2000 to 2007 to see which of the first-round picks from these years went on to make a Pro Bowl appearance. If a player made a Pro Bowl in their career, they were worthy of a first-round pick. If not, you can label the player a bust (or at least say they didn't "live up to expectations").

All told, 254 players were drafted in the first round from 2000 to 2007. Of those, 95 have played in a Pro Bowl, resulting in that 37% and change. It's also worth noting that four of the eight No. 1 overall picks (Mario Williams, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, and Michael Vick) have played in a Pro Bowl, so, per this test, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, projected as the No. 1 overall pick this year, has a 50% chance of success.

Preparing for the NFL Draft hasn't just kept the scouts and War Room folks jumping. Ever since the NFL recast the Draft as one of the major tent-pole events on its calendar—in prime time for the first time this year—alongside the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl, and the September season kickoff, the league and its marketing partners have been busy designing specific campaigns to activate around the Draft.

Last week, ESPN introduced its Draft-centered marketing campaign with series of ads featuring the Jay-Z songs Empire State of Mind, Star Is Born, On to the Next One, and So Ambitious. Verizon Wireless is focusing its NFL Draft-related activities on NFL Mobile, featuring live Draft coverage and its "real-time draft tracker." And always ones to party, the Miami Dolphins are holding a team Draft party at Sun Life Stadium Thursday night—with performances by the Dolphins cheerleaders, free parking and admission, and a free first draft beer. The Dolphins have the 12th pick in the first round.

Athletes also use the Draft to promote their own deals. While declining to hang out in the green room at Radio City Music Hall, NFL Draft prospect and former Florida Gator Tim Tebow has signed a $300,000 shoe and apparel contract with Nike (NKE), according to ESPN and other sources. While on the low side, the deal is reportedly incentive-laden, thanks partially to the popular quarterback's enormous fan base. Tebow has also done promotional work for EA Sports (ERTS) and is the cover athlete for EA's NCAA Football 2011 video game. Tebow has also signed a deal with Palm Beach Autographs that marketing experts estimate could go into the six-figure range for a package of autograph signings. And Tennessee defensive back Eric Berry's new foundation plans to donate an AstroTurf field to his hometown of Fairburn, Ga.—more on this after Berry knows what uniform he'll wear next year.

2. More NFL Biz: Kroenke, Leiweke, and Goodell(ke)

In other NFL news, sports mogul Stan Kroenke announced his intention to buy the St. Louis Rams, therefore challenging the league's cross-ownership rule. And in Los Angeles, Anschutz Entertainment Group honcho Tim Leiweke and Wasserman Media Group CEO Casey Wasserman unveiled plans to develop a new downtown stadium site adjacent to Staples Center. How does all this interrelate?

If he's able to get around the NFL's cross-ownership rules to buy the 60% of the St. Louis Rams currently up for sale by Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, Denver Nuggets/Denver Avalanche owner Stan Kroenke may have to sell his Mile High teams to wife Ann, a Wal-Mart (WMT) heiress with an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion. What then? As noted by the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers, Kroenke owns a home in the L.A. area, previously co-owned an expansion team in L.A., and is good friends with businessman John Shaw, who engineered the Rams' migration to St. Louis. Doesn't "Los Angeles Rams" have a nice ring?

What's not in question is the revenue goal NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has set for the league—$25 billion by 2027, or adding an average of nearly $1 billion in revenue every season until then. More immediately, as part of ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations, Special Master Stephen Burbank has upheld the NFL's implementation of a supplemental revenue-sharing plan and rejected the NFLPA's case that lower-revenue clubs were shorted money they were due under the revenue-sharing system established via the 2006 CBA.

Supplemental revenue sharing will average approximately $107 million for each of the NFL seasons 2006 through 2009. Approximately $6.5 billion will be shared among the 32 NFL teams this year, the deepest revenue sharing of any pro sports league.

While the $25 billion figure is no more than a wishful-thinking benchmark on Goodell's part, the bold statement to NFL owners last month is just as much an assertion of power on the Commish's part as is his decision to announce the Roethlisberger suspension the day before the draft, effectively drawing attention away from the league's third-biggest mega event. Goodell's announcement is also a warning bell to teams as they complete last-minute player assessments—draft good kids, or else. It also could hint at stronger sanctions for teams with conduct-challenged players. Say Mom and Dad leave town for the weekend, their teenagers throw a party, and someone gets hurt. Mom and Dad are at the head of the accountability line. Why not the Steelers, et al.?

Rick_horrow
Rick Horrow is a leading expert in the business of sports. As chief executive officer of Horrow Sports Ventures, he has been the architect of 103 deals worth more than $13 billion in sports and urban infrastructure projects. He is also the sports business analyst for CNN, Fox Sports, and the Fox Business Channel. Karla Swatek is vice-president of Horrow Sports Ventures and co-author of Beyond the Box Score: An Insider's Guide to the $750 Billion Business of Sports (2010). Horrow is also the host of Sportfolio, a new program on Bloomberg TV that airs Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET.

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