The ongoing annual scouting combine, methadone for the NFL junkie, may lure close to 7 million viewers to its week of telecasts featuring little more than mesomorphs sprinting around in spandex.
The numbers from last year’s NFL Network combine broadcasts were reported to be higher than a typical week of regular season Major League Baseball telecasts.
If those numbers aren’t enough, hearing that the NFL would like to shuffle the “offseason” calendar so that it features one large event each month makes the obvious clear: Year-round NFL is on its way.
The tentative plan is to push the combine back to March, the start of free agency into April, and the draft back to May to allow a more even dosage of their drug.
With training camp opening in late July, the exhibition season going in August, the regular season from September through December, playoffs in January and Super Bowl in February, the new schedule would force fans to suffer withdrawals only in the month of June.
The market will not only bear it, it’s crying out for more, and it seems nowhere near the saturation point.
A 2011 SportsBusiness Daily poll showed the NFL as the favorite sport of 36 percent of responders, far exceeding baseball and college football, which were tied for second at 13 percent.
The NFL Network added another game a week during the regular season, and Thursday Night Football ratings went up 8 percent last year. Every week during its schedule, it was the day’s highest-rated program on cable television.
But the rising offseason interest has to have caught even the league by surprise. Particularly the combine, which is not a competition in any real sense, and in no way appeals to team loyalties.
In essence, it’s 300 guys running 40-yard dashes, darting around cones, throwing and catching passes, and jumping both vertically and horizontally. If you missed it live, you can check out the NFL website for video highlights. For instance, you won’t want to miss “Linebacker bench press.”
Surely the next move to amp ratings is to assign points to their times and measurements and make a “decathlon” competition out of it so viewers could follow the drama. Since they’re all trying to turn pro anyway, they could award prize money.
Silly? Adidas this year is offering a shoe-endorsement contract to the prospect who runs the week’s fastest 40 time.
Televising and monetizing the free-agency period might be tricky, other than following players around on their visits to various teams and taping their workouts, like a reality series.
Maybe the team’s general manager could hand a rose to the defensive tackle he decides upon.
The impact of the draft is obvious. In 1980, ESPN execs talked commissioner Pete Rozelle into broadcasting the event, although Rozelle argued that nobody would be interested.
As ratings exploded, it moved to the weekend, and in 2010, it was turned into a three-day affair starting in prime time on Thursday. The first-round viewership for ESPN last spring showed an increase of 16 percent to 6.6 million.
I consulted the site statistics for our Seahawks Insider blog (blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks) to see if this curious offseason interest applies regionally.
Our busiest day of 2012 for web hits? Surely it had to be after the dramatic and controversial Golden Tate catch that beat Green Bay on the last play. Or maybe it was the 42-13 dismantling of rival San Francisco in December.
Nope. It wasn’t even during the season, but in April during the draft. And not even for the first round, but on Saturday, April 28, when we were covering rounds 4-7 of the draft.
So, yeah, NFL, spread it out, make it year-round, feed the demand.
Early hints are that the players’ association objects to the scheduling changes. As they should because they need to be certain they’re getting their fair slice of the income.
They deserve it, especially the burly guys who have to run around all week in unflattering spandex outfits.