Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Under Further Review: Combine Proves NFL Power

How fast did Jadeveon Clowney run in the 40 yard dash? How many 225-pound bench press reps did Michael Sam lift, again? To the eighth of an inch, how tall is Johnny Manziel? How big are Blake Bortles' hands?

The constant flurry of questions can be overwhelming but at the same time totally normal. The annual National Football League Combine is where draft eligible players in their teens or early-20s throw on the spandex and show off their athletic prowess in front of mostly middle-aged scouts and team personnel. It sounds utterly absurd, but the Combine is proof of the NFL's immense media power. And it's all part of the NFL's diabolical plan.

Television ratings are a commonly used indicator of media success, and the Combine does not lack. Last year, the Combine saw its highest ratings ever, airing on NFL Network and drawing 7.25 million viewers over four days. It was an 11 percent increase over the previous year's Combine, and this year will likely see even more of an increase.

The buzz around this year's Combine runs deep. Manziel is a walking headline in the eyes of the sports media, already reaching Tebowian levels. Clowney has become one of the targets of intense speculation and scrutiny probably because people believe he mailed in his final season of college ball which when you think about it why wouldn't he? And Sam may be the most watched third to fifth round projection after his historic announcement.

There is also a funny little caveat to all of this, and that's that ESPN benefits greatly from the Combine creating palpable buzz. Ratings for their broadcast of the NFL Draft in May (April until this year) depends on the what level the hype machine is firing on. ESPN used the NFL Draft as its first NFL property back in 1980, and the Draft has grown right alongside the burgeoning network. But there is no stopping the growth, because now the focus is on the Combine to supplement the draft.

It will be interesting to see what the final Combine and Draft television rating numbers end up looking like. Last year, the draft lacked major story lines at the top of the draft. However, 6.2 million people still viewed the first round, and an average of over three million people tuned in each of the three days. The strength is remarkable, considering it is all still growing.

So what does the future look like? Does ESPN venture into the territory of buying the rights to the NFL Combine? The NFL is likely trying to maximize its potential to spur a bidding war to drive up the price if they do want to sell, but let's be serious everything at the NFL is for sale for the right price. The league is shooting for $25 billion in revenue by 2027, and the Combine could be a valuable asset. Increased exposure on ESPN/ESPN2/WatchESPN would drive ratings to new heights. And it would give the network more control over the narratives they want to push for the Draft.

For now, though, we all will have to settle for watching punters run the 40 and 300-pound offensive linemen in spandex run the three cone drill on NFL Network.


Kevin Rossi is a junior Drexel Sport Management major with minors in Communications and Business Administration. Since joining the SMTSU, Kevin has worked his way up the ladder to President. Currently, Kevin is also the Drexel editor for Kevin recently finished his second co-op with Temple University in their Athletic Communications office. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

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