The Other Superbowl: The 2014 NFL Draft

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In America the Superbowl is king, but the media has constructed another gargantuan event: the NFL Draft.

Forget baseball, a fading relic to a bygone American era when the country was young and innocent. American football is the national pastime now, and for good reason. Its an orgy of entertainment filled with bone-crushing collisions, electric guitars cranked to full volume and scantily-clad cheerleaders. But it’s also a strategy game. Think pro wrestling meets chess.

It’s no surprise that millions of Americans (including my mother) are tuned in from the season opener in September to the Superbowl in late January. Sunday is for three things: watching games, enjoying your favorite alcoholic drink, and munching on delicious artery-cloggers like pizza and buffalo wings.

But what if I told you that the obsession continues into late spring? That football fans shun their families and work duties during late April and early May to watch ESPN specials and read blogs while no actual games are being played? That two nights ago I stayed up until three in the morning watching football experts talk about players who are not even in the NFL yet?

The media monster that is the draft

• The NFL Draft is the world’s most popular sporting event which involves no actual live sports

• Bookmakers take bets on who will be picked where as well as adjust lines for the next years Superbowl

• Jadeveon Clowney proved oddsmakers right, being picked first overall by the Houston Texans

That’s right, I’m talking about the NFL Draft, that special time of year when over 200 young men will see their pro football hopes realized, and the rest of us will watch the imaginary drama unfold. The Guardian described the event perfectly: “The world’s most popular sporting event that doesn’t contain any actual live sports.”

The first televised draft wasn’t featured until the 1980s, and only in the past 15 years has it become an inescapable media phenomenon. The dawn of live draft coverage coincided with football’s rise to become America’s most popular spectator sport.

NFL teams themselves get a cut from official television coverage of the draft, but it results in a ton of money made for networks, news sites, football experts and journalists. And lets not forget our favorite businesses, sportsbooks.

Bookies cash in

Due to American gambling laws, the country has an almost non-existent sportsbetting market. But Canadian bookie Bodog as well as UK-based betting providers like Ladbrokes and Betfair also take wagers on the event.

Not only is it America’s most popular sporting event which doesn’t involve actual sports, it is also one of the biggest sportsbetting events which does not involve actual sports. Bookies make a killing because the event is notoriously difficult to predict, given that teams are highly secretive about what they plan to do on draft day.

The odds

The biggest wager centers on which hopeful will be awarded the coveted honor of being the #1 overall pick. Online sportsbook in the UK Betfair gave South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney the best odds of being taken first overall at 2/1, followed by quarterbacks Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater with 4/1, 7/1 and 14/1, respectively.

Quarterbacks are the most high-profile players and usually who teams target with the top picks, but this year the position players were simply too talented to pass up. The Houston Texans indeed took Clowney first overall, but bookies made a lot of money when Manziel fell all the way to #22, and fellow highly-ranked quarterback Teddy Bridgewater fell to #32.

Odds for Super Bowl 2015

Aside from betting on the picks themselves, online and mobile betting sites use the draft as an opportunity to adjust odds for the next year’s Superbowl winner. As each team added some (potential) star players during the first few rounds, it’s possible that some increased their chances of contending next year.

However, lines didn’t budge much after the first day. Even after taking the consensus best player in Clowney, Houston’s odds for next year remain 40/1. The Cleveland Browns selected the brash Manziel, nicknamed “Johnny Football,” but Bovada still only gives them 50/1 odds. My Minnesota Vikings started the day at 66/1 and after taking Bridgewater and defensive star Anthony Barr in the first round were able to bump their line to 50/1. But come on, it isn’t all that impressive.

How will we carry on?

For American football junkies like me there are still two days of draft coverage to keep us from suffering major-post Superbowl withdrawal symptoms. But the eventual hangover is coming. From next week until the first games in early September, there will be nothing worth following in the NFL.

Baseball may no longer be America’s favorite game, but it will have to tide us over for the summer. That is, unless Americans can find something other than sports to give meaning to our lives.

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