It’s felt inevitable for weeks that COVID-19 would make its way to the United States, and it’s now feeling inevitable that cancellations of large-scale events sparked by the coronavirus (starting with SXSW) is just the beginning.
So as March 7 becomes March 14 becomes March 21 becomes April 1 becomes April 15 becomes April 23, the first day of the NFL draft, no one knows what will happen between now and then, but the evidence points to things getting worse before they get better.
Not surprisingly, the local newspaper in the city that would be most affected by the cancellation of the draft is arguing against it. But that argument is grossly premature, and ultimately irrelevant. Time will tell whether the Las Vegas draft will proceed. For now, it’s all up in the air.
But here’s the most important thing to consider: The NFL’s ultimate decision will be driven not only by public-health concerns but also by pragmatism. The league and Las Vegas have created a setting for the draft that will go from spectacular to forgettable without enough people there to serve as organic, 3D background props. And the league knows that holding an event in a venue that looks more empty than full will cause the people watching it on TV to ask themselves, “Why am I watching this on TV?”
That’s not to say the league will be unconcerned about the potential for spreading the virus in the close quarters that will make for the most compelling images on television. But if people won’t be inclined to stand in close quarters, the compelling images won’t happen. Which will compel the league to come up with a Plan B.
The draft definitely will proceed. The only question is whether the pictures that go along with an event that could be accomplished via group text message will include video of tens of thousands of people or something far more intimate. Either way, the Commissioner will be calling the names and the players who show up will be holding up their jerseys and those moments along with the at-times interminable filler in between them will be broadcast to the millions who will be watching at home.