Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

May 16, 2014

Morgan: The NFL knows how to sell the draft

Corsicana — The NFL is nothing if not a marketing genius. What other league has ever turned the draft into a ratings bonanza?  Once upon a time, the annual draft was held with very little if any press coverage.

 A couple of years ago, I heard an interview with Bob Lilly where he said he learned about being a first round draft choice when he read about it in the Fort Worth Star Telegram the next day.

Twenty years ago, I would listen to the draft on the radio wading through hours of picks that I had no interest in, just to see what gems the Cowboys had uncovered. Then, they took the draft to two days with rounds one, two and three on TV on a Friday, then the rest of the draft on Saturday.

Now? The draft is prime time, baby!  Thursday night is all about the first round. You even have a choice of networks. You can watch on ESPN or the NFL Network. I go with the NFL Network so I can avoid Mel Kiper and his hair.

Friday night highlights the second and third rounds, while Saturday wraps up with a marathon of picks from rounds four through seven. If you do like I do part of the time and watch on the tube and listen to the Ticket, you know that by late Saturday afternoon, Norm Hitzges is almost without a voice.

On Thursday night, after the first couple of picks, most of the cameras and microphones were trained on Johnny Football.

With each passing pick going to someone other than the youngest Heisman winner ever, the speculation grew. At least in my living room, it reached a crescendo at number 16. That’s where the Cowboys picked.

It worked.

Logically, I knew that the Cowboys’ needs hit all areas of the team much more than it did at quarterback.

My mind told me that the dumbest thing Jerry could do was take Manziel instead of a defensive or offensive lineman. (Not that Jerry hasn’t been known to do something dumb.) As the seconds ticked off the clock, my reasoning waned.

As time ran out, I was pulling for Jerry to take the undersized Aggie.  A top flight offensive tackle who could start for the next 10 years was a letdown.

By Saturday, the players being taken had more warts than a professional toad wrangler. Still, I watched. I’m a Cowboy fan. Players with warts fit in real well on a team with warts. Jerry has cornered the market on Compound W.

You’d think after the ‘Boys’ third seventh round pick, I’d just turn it off and watch Ron Popeil set it and forget it, wouldn’t you? I couldn’t. With a mere handful of picks left in the draft, the cameras were in the living room of Michael Sams, the first openly gay player hoping to play in the NFL.

Now, I’m not usually into conspiracy theories, but you know the press would have had a field day if Sams hadn’t been drafted. The NFL as a league would have been labeled as homophobic. It wouldn’t matter that he was much too small to play defensive end in the NFL and lacked the coverage skills to play linebacker (and is too slow for special teams).  The league had to show it was inclusive.

Lo and behold, the St. Louis Rams took the SEC defensive player of the year. I have no evidence that the league whispered in the ear of any GM. I’m just saying that it was lucky for the league, PR wise, that someone drafted the man. Of course, now the onus is on the Rams. If they cut him, they become the homophobes. How many potential seventh rounders or free agents have a camera in their living room?

There is no conspiracy in the fact that the league is protecting its image. It is a fact that some critical tweets by some of the league’s players drew the ire of the NFL.  When Dolphin safety Don Jones tweeted “Horrible” after the drafting of Sams, the team reacted.  Jones will be taking “diversity training.” That sounds to me a lot like Communist China or the old Soviet Union where those guilty of heresy against the party were “re-educated” in the Gulag.

    I can’t blame the Dolphins, though. A team fighting the bullying label can’t afford to add the homophobe tag. Next thing you know, they’d be turning on widows and orphans.

Who would have ever thought the NFL could turn the draft into a TV spectacle? I give Jerry a lot of credit for that. I think that during Jerry’s 25 years in the league, he has shown the rest of the NFL that there are ways to make money other than what comes through the turnstiles and at the concession stand. Anyone who can take a perennial  8-8 team and sell out every game, have an official team soft drink, an official team pizza, an official team pickup, and on and on and on…  That guy knows how to make money, and it rubs off on the league. Now, if he can just find an official Cowboys’ wart remover…

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