Ocean City resident Billy Schweim, whose ESPN 97.3 radio talk show can be heard Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, said Philadelphia allowed the NFL to make its draft a bigger event than some other sports’ playoff games.
“More than any other major league, the NFL does a great job of making its sport accessible and interesting to its fans year ‘round,” said Schweim. “The draft is a great example of the league’s ability to market its product.”
Schweim cited Philadelphia’s venue of the Museum of Art and the Ben Franklin Parkway — uniquely suited to showcase everything from the city’s Independence Day fireworks celebration and concert to a pair of Papal Masses — as the only performance space of its kind.
The NFL reportedly invested $20 million in building a huge stage on the steps of the Art Museum, made famous in the “Rocky” movie franchise, and other preparations. The so-called “Selection Square,” where representatives of each NFL team made the actual draft picks, was set up in the rotunda of the Franklin Institute next to the huge marble statue of Ben Franklin. A 100,000-square ft. NFL Shop was installed and had a line to get in Friday.
There was a red carpet area where the first round picks strutted in expensive designer suits, a concession row featuring a wide range of food and drink concessions, as well as a photo station where fans could pose with the Lombardi Trophy and view a full collection of Super Bowl championship rings. NFL marketing executive Jessica Christ said the merchandise sales exceeded expectations in the first two days, according to published reports.
Beyond the setting, Philadelphia’s legendary fans showed up in record numbers for an NFL draft and provided energy and noise never before seen. Published reports estimated 100,000 fans showed up for the first night’s selection of draft rounds 1 and 2 and even more packed the Parkway on Friday.
“I heard (NFL executive and former Eagle) Troy Vincent say that Philly blew Chicago away,” said Schweim, in reference to the Windy City’s effort to host the draft last year. “Maybe Philly should have it every year.”
Philadelphia’s favorable geographic location allowed representation by fans of many other teams such as the New York Jets and Giants, Baltimore Ravens, Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. Despite this, the dominant fan base came from the host city.
“I think the Philadelphia fans’ reputation is something of a cliché, and some of the fans try to live up to it,” said Schweim. “At the same time, they are showing enthusiasm and passion that can’t be matched.”
The fans booed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell every time he walked to the stage, as well as the draft selections for divisional rivals Washington and New York. But as expected, they saved the most venom for their most bitter rival, the Dallas Cowboys. On Saturday, former Dallas wide receiver Drew Pearson tried to taunt the fans: “I want to thank the Philly fans for allowing me to have a career,” he said, with the boos raining down to the point of nearly drowning out Pearson’s words.
Of course they roared with cheers on Thursday night when Temple linebacker Haasan Reddick was the 13th overall selection (Arizona Cardinals) and the Eagles went “on the clock” in advance of their selection of Derek Bennett,a defensive end from Tennessee.
All of this made for what the industry calls “good TV” and results in the audience sticking with the coverage through hours and hours of programming and commercials.
“I was a bit perplexed with the Eagles pick,” Schweim said. “I was expecting them to take a wide receiver or a defensive back there.” They did grab Sidney Jones, a corner from the University of Washington in the second round with the 43rd overall selection.
On today’s show Schweim will talk about the draft and will speak to former Temple star running back Paul Palmer who coached Reddick when Haasan attended Haddon Heights High School.