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How the NFL became a 12 month sport

The evolution of the year-round product. Jack Bechta

Print This June 25, 2014, 05:30 AM EST

We forget about most sports in their respective off-seasons but the NFL has crept into our lives on a more permanent year-round basis. Was it a fluke? Absolutely not!

This is how it happened:

Fantasy football: The growth of the competitive fantasy football player spawned ownership in players. Like owning a stock portfolio, you have to pay attention to the stocks you own or want to purchase. So ten years ago there was already an estimated twenty million fantasy players (upwards of 32 million now) talking, consuming, debating, watching and listening for offseason news on their players.

The internet/bloggers: Credit has to go to sites like profootballtalk.com, kffl.com, arrowheadaddict.com and 700level.com (founded in 1999) as well as The700level.com (started in 2003 now under the control of Comcast). As bloggers like Mike Florio fought in his early days to keep his one-man site afloat he kept track of DUI’s, injuries, hirings and firings. Many of these incidents and transactions would normally slip through the media cracks.

Additionally, the internet became very competitive for news and that meant local beat writers, bloggers and year round sites had to dig for even more news and when there was no news they kept the conversation going with organic content.

The NFL Network: I think most forget how the NFL Network struggled when it was initially launched in 2003. They were starving for live relevant content and mostly showed reruns of older games and tapped into the NFL Films vault for even more content. The numbers initially showed that people weren’t interested in sitting home in May or July tuning in to watch an NFL playoff game played in 1990. The owners’ vision of a money making year round network was initially crumbling before their eyes. Then as they started adding more coverage of the Combine, All-Star games, college pro days and the draft, they realized by linking these activities together with promotion, build up and more coverage they could keep the NFL fans engaged.

The bottom line is that the NFL Network is an investment made by the owners they want to see as a twelve months of the year moneymaker. So if you wonder why the draft was pushed back two weeks into May, look no further than the NFL Network, not the Rockettes.

The Draft: The NFL draft is the bridge between college and pro football. It has undoubtedly taken on a life of its own. The anticipation of whom your team is going to draft with their first pick is now just one leg of why we watch. The producers have created storylines that create even more drama. In the past it was, "will it be Bledsoe or Mirer?" "Who will make a blockbuster trade and whom were the Jets fans going to boo". Now it’s the Michael Oher (Blindside), Tim Tebow, Michael Sam, and Johnny Manziel type stories etc. The producers have trained us to watch the draft to see whose dreams may be crushed as well as whose will come true. Again, there is content to sell to their partners like ESPN and to feed its own baby, The NFL Network.

Stretching the cycle: When I started in the agent business my clients were usually reporting on or about August 1st through 5th. Now it’s as early as July 18th. We also have five preseason weeks, a bye week making the season 17 weeks vs. 16 and now talk of an extra playoff week.

When the draft was pushed back into May this year we had unanimous reactions to bring it back to April by coaches, GMs, and agents. If the draft remains in May it’s an obvious sign who is calling the shots and why.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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