The NFL earns their first Learning! 100 Award for Innovation.
On April 25th, 2020, the National Football League pulled off the largest virtual recruitment and hiring event ever conducted due to COVID-19. The NFL connected 32 teams, the General Manager and Head Coach from home offices, raved fans from all teams, NFL’s Roger Goodell and the draft announcer, the top 75 draft picks at home each day and millions of viewers via a technology network from Verizon, Microsoft Teams, AWS, BOSE, and ESPN. The result: The first successful four-day virtual NFL Draft.
Goodell, himself, did not know if it would work. He said:
“It came out better than any of us thought. I had told them a few weeks ago that I was not going to judge this on ratings or normal numbers—attendance, obviously that was not a factor. It is all going to be about, can we demonstrated that we can work from home safely, productively, which goes to the operation of the draft itself? And, can we send the right tone and messaging. And finally, can we do something really to give back to our communities that are so much in need? I think those things we really hit.”
The key to the success was everyone used the same platform, no exceptions.
“The most significant thing is everybody is doing the same thing. It is not like one team is going to be in their facility, and another team has got to sit and go through all this other stuff. We put redundancy behind their communications. We did not have one incident where we had to extend the clock or do anything unusual. In fact, it worked just as well as it worked during a normal draft. We had zero problems on that front.”
There were a few lessons learned.
Conducting a mock draft was crucial so they could “work out the kinks.” There was one instance where the team had the wrong phone number to call in their pick. Participants were clearly more comfortable with the technology afterwards.
They also learned that tasks could be accomplished virtually. “The word I use is we have to adapt,” added Goodell. “You have to pivot, and you have to work the problem for solutions and that’s what we’ve done,” concludes Goodell.
While the event went smoothly, there were lots of moving parts.
“Our IT folks did a great job. Peter O’Reilly, [EVP of League Events] kept everyone focused… We were trying to do this safely… So, coming into someone’s home, we had to know we were doing that safely and not putting people at risk.”
Many technology partners stepped up to make the first NFL virtual draft a success. According to Goodell:
“The technical side itself, with getting equipment to getting the lines—AWS, their CEO [Andy Jassy] reached out and said, ‘I see you’re doing this; we want to help.’ Verizon [CEO Hans Vestberg] said, ‘We’re partners, and we want to help.’ Microsoft, BOSE, ESPN, we used all of them. We needed their equipment, their lines some software. We needed security. That was a big think on these lines. The thing I was most concerned about, other than the safety, was the security of the lines and the information so that someone is not accessing someone’s board or conversation. That was a huge issue for us.”
Learn more about the NFL virtual draft by viewing their video.