The Columns

Economist's Eye View of NFL Draft

— by on May 1st, 2012

For Washington and Lee economics professor Tim Diette, the chance to go to New York last weekend and see the National Football League draft up close was both entertaining and instructive.

Tim went at the invitation of his Lexington neighbor, Matthew Schucker, who won an all-expense-paid trip for four to the draft through a Facebook contest. Matthew is a band teacher at Maury River Middle School and a Philadelphia Eagles fan. As part of the contest, he announced the Eagles’ fourth-round draft choice on the final day of the draft (cornerback Brandon Boykin of Georgia, if you’re wondering).

So Tim found himself seated in the front rows at Radio City Music Hall for all three sessions of the draft. He also met NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Of course, Goodell is not unacquainted with Washington and Lee or Lexington. His niece is a current student; his brother, Bill, is a 1980 law grad and former trustee.

What intrigued Tim more than anything was the way the NFL has turned a business meeting into a three-day spectacle. “It really is remarkable when you think about what they’ve done,” he said. “You pull up to Radio City Music Hall, and it’s as if you’re coming to the Academy Awards with red carpets, the top-ranked players getting out of their SUVs and being greeted by adoring fans. Inside, it’s essentially a made-for-TV event, with the sets for ESPN and the NFL Network dominating the space. I was fortunate to have a spot up close; a lot of people were sitting behind one of the sets and couldn’t see the podium at all.

“The teams call the event the player-selection meeting, and all they’re doing is assigning college players to teams. It’s funny to me that what we were watching is not at all a sporting event but is made to seem like one. Ten minutes would go by, someone would walk to the podium and make an announcement, and then another 10 minutes would go by. There is virtually no real action, but the response of the fans makes it appear that things really are happening.”

Tim notes that when his neighbor, Matthew, rose to announce the Eagles’ choice, he was drowned out by boos from fans of the rival New York Giants and Washington Redskins, who were well represented at the event.

The bottom-line lesson for Tim was the power of marketing: “It’s remarkable, the level of loyalty that the NFL has successfully generated in fans, so that they have this intense interest in every part of the enterprise.”