After putting about 7,000 fans in Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium at $25 a pop for Super Bowl Media Day, the NFL is now letting fans in for the scouting combine drills, per Mike Chappell of IndyStar.com. There will be a beta test this year -- if you're going to be in the area for next week's combine, you can go to 1iota.com and enter to be one of 250 people who will be allowed to watch quarterbacks and receivers work out in the stadium. Entrants are asked to submit a personal photo and short essay.
"They've been asking us to put fans in the stands for the last four years," said Jeff Foster, director of the locally based National Football Scouting. "Obviously this is important to the NFL, so we're excited to partner with them on the opportunity."
One assumes that the scouts, coaches, personnel men and possibly the players involved are less enthused. I've gone in to observe the workouts each of the last three years, and it's like a very big library in there. There are hundreds of familiar faces in the seats -- NFL personnel making notes and comparing observations. You can cut the tension with a knife, because you've got all those draft prospects doing their level best, with the full knowledge that one mis-step or dominant performance in those drills could make or cost them millions of dollars.
Imagine a bunch of people yelling at you when you were sitting for your SATs or bar exam, and that's the relative level of "clang" this move could produce.
"When I first got here, we weren't even on television, and I think there were about 200 media," [Foster] said. "Now, I don't know how many hours we're on live, and I believe last year we had 600 credentialed media. We've evolved so much."
Foster said that the move is one way to bridge the gap between the Super Bowl and the draft when it comes to constant fan enthusiasm and interest, and you can bet that if Roger Goodell has anything to say about it, he'll commercialize as much of the draft process as possible. The NFL's Competition Committee has resisted all efforts by the league to open the combine up to a larger audience, and that point of view is pretty understandable. Add in the fact that unless you're specifically scouting these players, most of the time spent between drills and timed events is about as exciting as watching paint dry.
Putting fans in the stands for Media Day was actually a great idea, and I hope they continue that in future years. That day is a circus anyway -- it's 95 percent about being seen and heard, and five percent about actual football. It gave fans an interesting look at the process, made them feel closer to the event, and gave them some interesting quotes to take home. It felt like an organic extension of the NFL Experience, and all the ancillary events during Super Bowl week.
If Media Day is Short Attention Span theater for everyone involved, the combine drills are much more like finals week. And since the combine drills are already televised with expert running commentary on the NFL Network, what would fans would get out of it that they already don't? Readers, what would you get out of it that you already don't?
The scouting combine is just a different animal. It's a serious event, and concentration is a premium asset. I'm not saying that putting fans in the stands would automatically mess that up; it's just hard to see what the mutual advantage would be.