Matt Tait: NFL draft brings drama of live sports back to TV sets

In a photo provided by ESPN Images, the first six selections in the NFL draft are displayed during ESPN's coverage of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Bristol, Conn. (Allen Kee/ESPN Images via AP)

Live, unscripted sports temporarily returned to our television sets this week. And boy was it glorious.

We have the NFL draft to thank for that. And this year’s event, which began with Round 1 on Thursday night and continues through Saturday evening, was more important than ever before.

Save for the recent WNBA draft, which was a smaller production but also saw a serious rise in viewership, Thursday’s NFL draft was the first sign of sports in weeks.

It did not take long to realize and appreciate that seeing something real on television was far more meaningful than the breakdown of the picks by conference, school or position.

For what it’s worth, the SEC set a new record on Thursday night with 15 first-round picks, nearly as many as the four other Power Five conferences combined. The Big 12 had five.

As insignificant as sports can be at times, the buzz, excitement and distraction that Thursday’s first round provided from our current COVID-19-based reality was just what the country’s sports-starved fans needed.

According to reports, more money was bet on the first round of the NFL draft than ever before and online gambling on the NFL draft reached new heights. Various sites offered NFL draft prop bets on just about everything you can imagine, from where and when a player would be drafted, to picks by conference and picks by position. offered more than 160 such wagers for the first round alone. And that site, and several others, kept the action going on Friday and into the weekend.

The Associated Press reported Friday that 15.6 million television viewers tuned in on Thursday night, breaking the 2014 record of 12.4 million.

All of it for just a little taste of what makes sports so much fun to follow — the uncertainty of the outcome and watching it play out live right in front of your eyes.

We’ve had plenty of sports entertainment to choose from during the past couple of months. Networks have jumped into the rebroadcast craze, showing past playoff games and all-time classics on a semi-regular basis.

And the newly released Michael Jordan documentary, though old in terms of its recorded footage, felt very new.

All of that has been great. And fans, coaches and athletes have experienced those events in a whole new way. But no matter how cool it was to watch Kansas coach Bill Self live-tweet the rebroadcast of the 2008 national title game, nearly everyone who tuned in knew the final score, or at least the outcome, before the game even began.

That’s what made Thursday so cool. There were 1,000 mock drafts made leading up to the draft. But no one knew for sure what was going to happen. That’s drama. That’s sports. That’s spectacular.

And for at least a few nights, we got that back.

The games will return eventually. Who knows when? But until they do, we’ll watch the rest of the NFL draft this weekend like it’s the darn Super Bowl.


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