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Fan Confidence: Wake Me Up When the Kids Start Playing

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I have a confession to make: I don't care much about sports drafts.

ESPN, like most things wrong in sports, can be blamed for this phenomenon.  Drafts certainly existed before the Worldwide Leader existed, but the network has turned the NFL draft into a money making machine that naturally every other sport wants to replicate.  Even the Major League Soccer Draft is televised.

The NBA and NFL drafts have at least the advantage that all of the players were consistently televised during their collegiate career.  A fan doesn't need to pretend to be a scout to have a basic understanding which players are at the top, and which players are a mirage.

The high profile picks for football or basketball are almost always the same players with the most screen time.  Part of this is a system the funnels the best talent to higher profile schools, which in turn have better television contracts (and are more likely to play in the postseason).  When the Bulls picked Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft, everyone knew they were getting a good player.  Jordan is a once in a lifetime event, but it still stands that NBA and NFL drafts feature players not only you've seen before, but ones you'll see again in primetime fairly soon.

With baseball's draft you can guarantee that most of the players you haven't even seen once in a game.  The only conference that has games regularly broadcast is the SEC, and even ASU games aren't often televised in Phoenix.  It's even more difficult to see top high school talent.  MLB might not have a problem getting televised, but the entire system on down certainly does.

It might ultimately be a problem for baseball as an institution. Football has a clear, easy path of development that is built for television.  Even top prep teams are televised, so an astute fan could effectively watch a player all the way from their freshman year in high school to the NFL Draft.  It would be nearly impossible for a fan to do the same thing with a baseball player.

Baseball players need development time, though.  It's not a system conducive to television, but it is conducive to better baseball.

I mainly just don't like the draft being shoved in my face constantly.  It's the same complaint I have with the NFL Draft.  Don't turn on ESPN in April because you'll probably be forced to listen to Mel Kiper.  Content providers are attracted to draft coverage because they have a vested stake in the outcome.  To be fair, though, I may be alone in my opinion because the coverage wouldn't necessarily exist if there wasn't a demand for it in the first place.  On the other hand, we could make an argument that this is a case of induced demand (where the existence of a product increases the demand by simply existing, like highway lanes).  Powerful content providers such as ESPN and MLB Network can create demand by simply offering a product.  It's not always the case, as in the case of ESPN's short lived cell phone service, but the closer the accessory product to the original good is, the easier it is to connect it to the buyer.

ESPN and the content providers further down the scale, who have vested interest in more eyeballs and clicks, connect the drafts to the professional league with the strong implication that to be a 'good fan' you must pay attention to the draft.  By definition you are a 'bad fan' if you don't pay attention the draft.  It's a false dilemma, however, because sets up two opposing outcomes without the consideration that the definition of a 'good fan' might be somewhere in the middle, or not even on the scale.

Ultimately I can't help but wonder, "who cares" about the whole thing.  Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole are interchangeable UCLA pitchers to me, and Archie Bradley is a high school kid from a state I've never even passed through.

Sure, maybe in a few years when they are close to getting called up, or are actually in the Majors I'll be excited.  But for now, I'm going to pay attention to the Diamondbacks.  With a winning team on the field, it's more enjoyable for me to shorten the horizon.