The NFL Draft could be moving to May Sweeps if the league has its way.
The NFL may have found a way to improve its already-bustling TV coverage by tweaking its offseason schedule, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The new schedule would push back the scouting combine to March, the start of free agency to April and the draft to May. Team training camps would also all begin on the same day, marking an official “launch” of the NFL season.
The National Football League is under the television microscope more than any other professional sports league, with extensive coverage daily, while delivering heavy ratings for the networks lucky enough to be rights holders (just ask NBC how much they miss Sunday Night Football).
While the combine and start of free agency are viewership drivers in their own right, moving the three-day draft back to May Sweeps could significantly affect not just rights-holder ESPN, but any other network going up against it. While sweeps has lost some of its relevance given time-shifted viewership, it would still pit the powerful NFL against broadcast networks who usually schedule significant episodes (usually season finales or ones featuring big guest-stars) around that time.
Ever since the league expanded to a three-day draft and made the event a Radio City Music Hall extravaganza, which includes airing the first round in Thursday primetime, viewership has skyrocketed. Last year’s first-day coverage averaged 6.7 million viewers, second-most in ESPN history.
The NFL gets significantly more coverage during its offseason compared to the NBA and MLB; ESPN airs NFL Live year-round while NBA Coast to Coast and Baseball Tonight only run in-season. While some of that can be attributed to the NFL having a shorter season (thus a longer, more extensive offseason) than the other two, it’s no secret that football brings in big-time viewership.
The proposed new offseason schedule also gives the league a major event each of the three months: March, April and May, giving the league a longer period of relevancy on the sports calendar. It would also mean opportunities for additional revenue, according to Schefter’s report.