Whose Draft Is It Anyway?

This series is a discussion of the legal issues in the sports world amid the novel coronavirus. This is a first for our forum, where each of our contributors will be authoring at least one post, discussing either the sports world now, or what will likely happen in the future, during this unprecedented time. One post will be published each day, focusing on a new topic. Please check in each day for updates and feel free to comment with your questions or comments. Together, we will navigate this new landscape. #ubsportslaw #ublawsportsforum

Part 1: Where is my Refund
Part 2: What Dead Period? NCAA Schools Defy Recruiting Restrictions During COVID-19
Part 3: The Year of the 5th Year Senior
Part 4: Not Returning Seniors may Violate Title IX
Part 5: Predicting Future Liability
Part 6: Whose Draft Is It Anyway
Part 7: I’ll be Home for Christmas
Part 8: Credibility and Corona
Part 9: Simulated Sports Betting

Whose Draft Is It Anyway?

Image Credit: Michael LoRe / Forbes

Generally, the NFL draft is a relatively straightforward process for broadcasters to discuss as storylines unfold in a venue filled with hopeful young players, nervous families and energized fans. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s draft will be held remotely. As a result, networks will need to engage in a technological circus, to handle feeds from roughly 200 players and team officials that are scattered throughout the country, due to social-distancing.

Piling onto the pressure networks will face to provide a remote draft to content starved consumers, this year’s draft will be broadcast in 137 countries and territories, far in excess of years past, in the hopes of broadening the NFL footprint. As reported by Rory Carroll of Thomas Reuters, Seth Markman, a veteran producer at ESPN, told reporters on a recent conference call, “This is the most complicated event that I have ever been involved with.” Put simply, this event is somewhat of a high risk high reward venture for the NFL considering the potential positive branding versus the potential for derailing technological difficulties with millions watching.

Although networks will heavily rely on technology, to broadcast to the largest draft audience ever, there are similarities to some of the earliest drafts in NFL history. Put simply, many general managers will rely on the “bare essentials” when making their selections today, rather than take the chances of a technological hiccup with time running out on their selection. As reported by the New York Times, Giants General Manager David Gettleman recently stated “Listen, we don’t have much time, we can’t fool around,” when asked how he would respond to a potential suitor for his first-round choice, the fourth overall pick. However, Gettleman, who has been an executive in the league since 1986, feels a bit at ease despite the novelty of a remote draft. He further commented stating “This is like back in the late ’70s when they drafted with absolutely no contact with players. . . I think at the end of the day, it is a little bit old-school.”

Image Credit: Robert Walker / New York Times

As reported by Rory Carroll of Thomas Reuters, in a good faith effort to ensure quality of this challenging draft, ESPN will team up with NFL Network to produce a single broadcast as opposed to competing against each other. However, this NFL Draft in particular has a higher risk of cyber criminal activity, as there will be frequent and necessary communication between networks such as ESPN and NFL Network, players and teams, and team representatives and the commissioner. Considering this year is the first remote NFL draft, coaches and team executives who have long been paranoid about protecting their playbooks and player evaluations are faced with possibility that private discussions could be intercepted, interrupted or hacked.

As reported by Tom Schad of USA Today, experts believe that many of the concerns of cyber security regarding the NFL Draft are valid. Specifically, Dave Levin, a faculty member in the Maryland Cybersecurity Center at the University of Maryland stated “It’s such a high-profile target . . You could compromise it to send out a message. You could shut it down just for (kicks) and giggles. There are myriad reasons (to want to attack this).” Considering the economic downturn as a result of Covid-19, networks such as ESPN or the NFL Network, as well as the NFL, cannot afford to expose themselves to liability for a data breach while everyone is tuned into the NFL Draft.

Image Credit: Tom Pennington / WKBW

Another layer of this NFL Draft is balancing the fear and reality of Covid-19 with the business of being the NFL. Put simply, producers must strike the right tone and show empathy amid this pandemic, which has claimed more than 42,000 lives in the United States. Accordingly, viewers can expect tributes to first responders and healthcare workers as well as a “Draft-A-Thon” that will raise funds to support relief efforts. “We all feel a special responsibility to do a spectacular, meaningful draft for so many people,” Mark Quenzel, a producer for the NFL Network, said on the call.

As the NFL, its teams, and future players gear up for a draft that will unfold in an unprecedented manner, uncertainties loom large. However, the NFL, its teams, and networks covering the draft are confident in the ability to conduct the draft today. NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith has stated that he believes flexibility and innovation are key, both for a successful draft process and for the league as a whole moving forward. During the height of the Covid-19 restrictions, the NFL has provided us, consumers starving for content, with numerous storylines regarding free agency, trades, and the draft. Hopefully, the NFL can come through, once more, for the millions of people watching tonight, as they take on an unprecedented challenge in uncertain times.

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