(Combine photos courtesy NFL)
By Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
The NFL’s marketing geniuses are at it again. They’re about to turn the NFL scouting combine into a lawsuit waiting to happen.
In an apparent effort to transform the offseason into a promotional vehicle running out of control, the league’s suits have decided to grant increased “access” to pre-draft workouts of the top 300 prospects at Lucas Oil Field by offering fans an “up close experience’’ at the combine.
Somehow, I remember when sportswriters in the early years of the combine tried to cover the event like a news story, and the NFL did all it could to create decreased access, even going so far as to have the furniture in the lobby of the combine invitees’ hotel removed and the heat turned off to prevent the great unwashed scribes from waiting there to corral players and coaches as they were coming and going.
In those days, the NFL was more secretive about the combine’s inner workings than Vladimir Putin is about his election hacking software. But that was before The Great Ratings Crash of 2016.
A year ago, the league offered 1,500 free tickets for fans to watch young men in shorts and T-shirts run around and jump over cones. This year they’ve upped it to 6,000, plus opening a place called “Combine Corner,’’ where grown men who can’t run will prove it by toeing the line of the 40-yard dash, performing drills and, if unlucky, even participating in “The Gauntlet.’’
“The Gauntlet’’ sounds like Lawyer Land to me.
In “The Gauntlet’’ fans can catch passes of various sorts shot out of Jugs machines, but to do it they have to sign a waiver indemnifying the NFL in case of injury. It seems to me that, if you have to ask your fans for indemnification, you’re probably asking them to do something unwise. How many broken noses do you think result from that? I don’t know, but I smell a class action suit in waiting.
Fearlessly, Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s senior vice president in charge of events, said this week that this was just a way for fans to better experience the NFL. If that’s the goal, why not just hit them in the head a few times with a hammer and then give them a Torodol shot?
Churlish New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick will be particularly happy to learn these visiting fans will be allowed to cheer on the players during the bench press and be up close and personal while they do. That’s a coach’s nightmare scenario.
The league will also allow fans to watch the orchestrated formal media interviews of the prospects. So now the questioner … as well as the questioned … will become part of the entertainment.
As ideas go, this one seems fraught with potential distractions (and don’t coaches love distractions?) and problems, including more than a little orthodontic work for those who face “The Gauntlet” face first. But, hey, marketing the game is what the NFL does best these days, isn’t it? Playing an entertaining game?
Judging by this year’s TV ratings, not so much.