NFL Owners Were Firmly Against The Idea of a Televised Draft

Published on April 24th, 2024 4:25 pm EST
Written By: Dave Manuel

Televising the NFL Draft for the first time in 1980. "I'm sorry - you want to what??"

It was early in 1980, and ESPN had a crazy idea that they pitched to Pete Rozelle, former Commissioner of the NFL:

Let's broadcast the NFL draft.

At the time, ESPN was a whole lot of nothing.

The network, which had launched just a few months prior, was broadcasting slow-pitch softball, wrestling and college soccer. ESPN was available in just 4 million homes across America - a fry cry from the tremendous reach that they enjoy nowadays.

ESPN was looking for unique content to broadcast on their network, and they thought that broadcasting the NFL draft would be perfect.


At the time, the NFL Draft was held in a dimly lit room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

There was no pomp and circumstance - instead, it was people talking on the phone and a whole lot of agents, trying to make the case for their clients.

Not exactly the type of thing that you would want to broadcast on TV if you were the NFL.

Luckily for ESPN, Pete Rozelle was a visionary and liked the idea of broadcasting the draft, after being initially hesitant.

The NFL's owners, however, hated the idea, and voted against the move.

The owners thought that the broadcast would be all about the player agents.

Pete Rozelle disagreed and told ESPN to go ahead with plans to broadcast the 1980 NFL Draft, but as a "news event" instead.

That way, Rozelle said, the owners can't tell us no.


On March 31st, 1980, ESPN sent out a press release, announcing that they would be televising the "NFL Selections".

On April 29th, 1980, the cameras were rolling when the Detroit Lions selected running back Billy Sims with their first overall pick.

Lam Jones was taken by the New York Jets with the #2 overall pick, while the Bengals hit it out of the park when they took Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz with the third overall pick.

The broadcast was certainly bare bones - there were no flashy graphics, there were no screaming crowds as picks were made, and there were no shots of crying families as players were selected.

There was no Mel Kiper, Jr. (who would join the broadcast a few years later), there were no hugs from the Commissioner as players were drafted, and there were no clocks counting down picks on the screen.

Instead, it was a bare bones, eight hour broadcast as the first six rounds of the NFL Draft were completed.


The NFL Draft is now one of the biggest events of the year for sports fans.

Forty years ago, however, owners were deadset against the idea of the draft being televised.

The draft coverage by ESPN grew in size with each passing year, with more and more being added to each broadcast.

Mock drafts were added. Commentary was added. Analysts were added.

In 1980, however, ESPN took a big risk by televising the draft, and the move certainly ended up paying off.

The draft, which took place at the Sheraton Center in New York City, got underway at 10 am EST.

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