WNBA and NFL virtual drafts prove to be a success

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Photo by screen grab of NFL draft by Adam Perez

NFL #1 draft pick revealed

Adam Perez, R2 Sports Editor

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sporting events have been canceled, leaving many sports fans anxious for a return to normalcy. Every April, the WNBA and NFL hold their annual player draft. However, both leagues had to cancel their live events that were scheduled to take place in New York City and Las Vegas. As a result, both leagues opted to hold their drafts virtually, with the league commissioners live streaming the draft picks and each player watching from their home. 

The first draft to utilize the online format was the WNBA draft on April 17. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert virtually announced all of the first round picks from her basement. Oregon Guard Sabrina Ionescu was taken by the New York Liberty with the first overall pick in the draft. In addition, the WNBA paid homage to teenagers Gigi Bryant, Alyssa Atobelli and Peyton Chester, naming them honorary draft picks after they all passed away in a fatal helicopter crash in January. 

The virtual draft was a major success for the WNBA. According to ESPN, the league achieved a record 387,000 viewers which was a 120 percent increase from the year before and a record viewership in the history of the WNBA draft.

The NFL followed in a similar suit with their draft that took place from April 25 to April 27. Similar to the WNBA, NFL Commissioner Roger Godell announced the first three rounds from his basement. Defending Heisman Trophy winner and LSU Quarterback Joe Burrow was the first overall pick made by the Cincinnati Bengals. 

One of the main themes of the NFL draft this year was supporting medical professionals and others on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle. The NFL launched the “Draft-A-Thon,” which raised more than six million dollars for COVID-19 relief. In similar fashion to the WNBA draft, the NFL also broke a viewership record at 55 million people across all seven rounds and 15 million in the first round alone. According to ESPN, this was a 32 percent increase from the draft in 2019. 

There are many reasons that can explain a sharp viewership gain for the virtual drafts. The first conclusion is that this was the first virtual draft ever and people who would not normally watch the draft wanted to see how a virtual draft would work. In addition, the virtual setup provided a much more relaxed and laid back environment compared to how formal and professional they usually are. The sense of leisure was seen most with NFL commissioner Roger Goddell who was often seen joking about how the fans could not continue the annual tradition of booing the commissioner. Godell also began reading off draft selections on his couch in the later rounds which increased the entertainment value significantly. 

It is without a question that this year’s virtual NFL and WNBA drafts were a success and definitely much more entertaining than years prior. Due to the current health situation and success of the NFL and WNBA drafts, many other leagues such as the MLB have opted to move to a virtual draft instead of canceling it entirely. In the future, every league should consider creating this sense of leisure that these drafts provided to increase the viewership and entertainment value of the draft.