The National Football League is the most popular sport in the United States, with yearly revenue nearly matching the NBA and MLB combined. With the NFL Draft serving as one of the biggest events on the offseason calendar and the league looking to grow, an NFL Draft Lottery could be the next step for growth.
All three other major sports use a draft lottery. The NBA adopted it in 1985 followed by the NHL’s introduction of its draft lottery system in 1995. More recently, the order for the upcoming 2023 MLB Draft was determined by a weighted draft lottery system.
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It leaves the NFL, a league that is always looking for new ways to increase its revenue and promote itself, as the last league standing. While implementing a weighted lottery to determine the NFL Draft order might not be on the table in the immediate future, it’s something that the league officials must consider for the future.
Here’s why an NFL Draft Lottery is the best thing for football.
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NBA proves there’s money to be made with NFL Draft Lottery
The hype surrounding Victor Wembanyama made the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery a must-see event. It’s rare for the NBA to have any non-playoff game represented among the most-watched events on television on any given night, but this year’s draft lottery is different.
- 2023 NBA Draft Lottery ratings: 3.2 million avg. viewers
According to Sports Media Watch, the NBA’s draft lottery this year drew a 2.0 final rating and surpasses 3 million viewers. It’s a double-digit increase from last year and was the third-most watched draft lottery ever on ESPN in nearly 20 years. Even when there isn’t a once-in-a-generation prospect in the class, the NBA Draft lottery has consistently averaged nearly 3 million viewers since 2013.
Arguments against the NFL Draft Lottery focus on tanking not being a real problem in pro football. There are also points made for rewarding the worst teams in the NFL and a belief that landing the first pick isn’t as impactful for the NFL as it is in the NBA.
However, all of that misses what matters most to the NFL. Money. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been marching the league toward its goal of earning $25 billion in revenue in annual revenue. In 2022, the league earned $18 billion in revenue.
The clearest path towards reaching the $25 billion milestone is television revenue. NBCUniversal is paying $110 million for the streaming rights to a single playoff game and the NFL will receive more than $100 billion collectively over the next 10 years from its broadcasting partners.
ESPN, FOX and CBS would all engage in a bidding war for the broadcasting rights to an NFL Draft lottery and a safe estimate is that a five-year deal would pull in more than $100 million for the NFL. Importantly, that’s just for the NFL Draft Lottery on its own.
A draft lottery would also provide the NFL with something to integrate into its offseason TV programming, draft lottery simulators would be created and that means boosted traffic online for the NFL and its media partners. The NFL wouldn’t even need to have a Wembanyama-level prospect for fans to be interested, the spectacle itself would pull in a massive audience every year.
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Rookie scale QB contracts are the most valuable asset in sports
While the NFL might not be particularly concerned about tanking right now, there are recent examples of it around the league. The Philadelphia Eagles effectively tanked in 2020, benching Jalen Hurts late in the game and using Nate Sudfeld so they could lose and improve their draft position.
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We’ve also seen the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans tear their rosters apart and put themselves in a position to have a top-10 pick multiple years in a row. Heading into the 2023 season, there are already rumors about NFL teams tanking for Caleb Williams and Drake Maye. While the NFL hasn’t disciplined anyone for it, everyone recognizes what is happening.
Of course, there’s a reason teams will field the worst rosters in football multiple years in a row. Quarterback is the most important position in sports. It’s why the highest-paid NFL quarterbacks make far more than players at any other position. If multiple teams believe an MVP-caliber quarterback is worth $50-plus million per season, that speaks volumes about the value of a star quarterback playing on a rookie contract.
Multiple NFL teams have gone on deep playoff runs with quarterbacks on rookie-scale contracts and it comes as no surprise. Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals were able to take advantage of the exploitative nature of rookie-scale contracts for quarterbacks.
The Chiefs won their first Super Bowl when Patrick Mahomes accounted for just 2.4% of their cap spending and made it back the following year when his salary was only 3.95% of the Chiefs’ cap total. It’s a similar story with the Bengals (Joe Burrow, 4.22% in 2021 and 4.65% in ’22), Eagles (Jalen Hurts, 0.73%), Bills San (Josh Allen, 2.66% in 2020 and 5.42% in ’21) and the San Francisco 49ers.
While having a high-end quarterback playing four-plus seasons on a rookie-scale contract doesn’t guarantee playoff success, it allows good NFL general managers to build much stronger football teams. It’s why the Carolina Panthers were willing to trade D.J. Moore and multiple first-round picks to draft Bryce Young.
If a once-in-a-generation talent comes along at quarterback, the smartest thing for a non-competitive team to do is to tank for that player. We’ve seen it done in recent years and it will likely happen again in 2023 in the race for Caleb Williams. Because of the unmatched value young quarterbacks provide and the financial upside for annual revenue, an NFL Draft Lottery is the best thing for the league.