Updated: Oct 28, 2020
By: Jakes Malone
“With the first pick in the 2020 draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select Joe Burrow, Quarterback, LSU.”
With that announcement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell named the first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on April 23 while the rest of America looked on. Unlike many years when the first pick can be a mystery, fans have already known for months that Joe Burrow was going to be the number-one pick. What fans didn’t know was how the NFL was going to pull off a completely virtual draft. With the stay-at-home and social-distancing measures in place to combat COVID-19, the NFL had to get creative if they wanted their annual draft to run as scheduled.
There were many rumors about how the league was going to conduct this draft, with speculation that they may have contacted EA Sports, the video game developer. The thought was to see if they could make virtual avatars in their football video game, Madden 20, and have them walk across a virtual stage to a virtual commissioner to simulate what it would be like in a normal draft situation.
The draft was scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, the brand-new home of the Las Vegas Raiders, formerly the Oakland Raiders. Normally, the top draft picks are waiting for their names to be called at a central location, while decision makers from each team are huddled in the same room at their respective team's facility. This was the first year that all players, coaches, general managers and owners participated in the draft from their homes, unless of course you were Cowboys owner Jerry Jones who took part in the draft on his $250 million super-yacht. Roger Goodell made the announcement everyone was expecting to hear, not in Las Vegas, but from his basement in New York. Meanwhile, 58 of the most expected players to be drafted in the first two rounds were also gathered in their homes with a camera provided to them for their reaction if they happened to get picked.
Each time Goodell announced a pick, there was a TV screen behind him with up to 12 fans of that respective team cheering. This added an in-person feel because fans are usually dressed up in their favorite team’s gear and are cheering loudly in person at the draft. With the sporting world being shut down due to COVID-19, fans have had no sports to watch and were eager to be entertained. This allowed the NFL Draft to have immense success as this was the only big news in any sport and gave fans some of the sports TV they have been craving.
According to information from the NFL, the average audience during the first round of the draft was 15.6 million, which was a 37 percent increase over the average audience from last year's 11.4 million. This year’s draft also saw ratings up 26 percent from their all-time high viewership in 2014 of 12.4 million viewers. Overall, the draft was a huge success, as everything went as planned and the fans got the entertainment they desired.
There were a few hiccups during the night such as Roger Goodell changing his outfit at some point during the first round, as well as him getting booed viciously by fans online on the television screen behind him. There were also times where Goodell didn’t know the camera was on him and he was either talking to someone off-screen or simply not paying attention. These minor bumps are to be expected in these circumstances and it didn’t take away from the viewership experience. The draft also gave us a sneak peek into the houses of players, coaches and managers, with some coaches and managers having their kids and spouses on the screen as well, creating a more wholesome, family-oriented feel. This is a great image for the NFL because the game is considered by some to be extremely violent and a lot people are fearful of the deadly consequences the game might have on the health of its players.
Thankfully, the draft was still great TV even though it was done entirely online. Fans were still able to see players’ live reactions to hearing their names being picked, and online interviews were done with the players from their houses so fans could meet their team’s new pick. The NFL did a fantastic job keeping the draft date as scheduled and gave fans a few hours of relief from the pandemic going on around them.