Let the shows begin

by Trey Nosrac

The first NFL draft began on Feb. 8, 1936, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. The humble beginnings saw 90 names scribbled on a chalkboard. Relatively few people were interested in this process of selecting future sporting stars. There was no media coverage. Who would care?

Eighty-six years later, plenty of people care. Last year, 55 million people watched at least part of the three-day draft selection extravaganza. Despite no sporting activity, the NFL draft has evolved into an event. Other pro-sports followed suit and have draft fests of their own. Major League Baseball recently held its draft for players who will not be on the field for years.

Rebirth and renewed hope are the engines that drive draft mania.

After your home team has a poor season, the draft is a bridge as you wait for next year. We are very similar in harness horse racing. After the disappointments of the previous year on the racetrack, we hold our annual drafts in the form of various yearling sales. Hope is in the air as the latest crop of standardbreds each step onto the stage, and we restock for next season.

Our current auctions of yearlings are fine. Videos and remote bidding are popular additions for people purchasing horses. Still, sales companies may wish to evolve by looking at the success of our sporting brethren in the marketplace of future young stars.

In other drafts, there is an insatiable appetite for draft content blasted out by prognosticators, bloviators, gurus, analysts, and snake oil salesman. Our sport might benefit from more hoopla, people with robust options, predictions, mock drafts, pre-sales confabs, and all the things that make other sports buzz before the choices take place with great fanfare.

The popularity of sporting drafts snuck up on most of us. Few recognized the psychological power in sports drafts (and yearling sales) where everyone is hungry to make a fresh start. The human psyche seems to relish making exciting picks. Every year we believe this year we will find the one that changes everything, maybe the one that everyone else missed.

It is human nature to adopt prospects for emotional reasons. We enjoy being correct with these picks, being right early on, and believing we have value in our selections. And, of course, as in most things, the internet is an essential factor. Everyone can research and find hidden gems in the tsunami of data.

We need a few of these folks who are so confident they can’t keep their choices to themselves to attract followings, start podcasts, and tout their wisdom and forward-thinking. It is fun to listen to characters claiming to be the most brilliant guys in the room who have access to all the “secret” research. Everybody’s got an opinion to be validated or destroyed. The selection process can be dramatic and fun.

I have a pal who loves this pedigree stuff. In my opinion, he is damn good at picking yearlings. When a yearling catalog is released, each page gets a severe review, with notations, circles, yellow markers for emphasis, rating, grades, and many other things I do not understand. Then, he watches the videos and grades them. Then he looks for hidden material that is not on the hip page.

Last week Trey suggested a webinar with a couple of pedigree nerds. On the appointed day, he and another expert will review the Lexington trotting fillies. Then on another day, their webinar will cover the pacing colts in the Ohio select sale, etc. They will go page by page, rating each horse from A to D, learning where they agree or disagree while educating and entertaining.

In addition to these webinars — the sales company should follow the lead of baseball, hockey, basketball, and even college sports and take it up a notch. Produce, or hire people to produce, shows leading up to the draft (sale), and then add more glitz for the patrons in the building and on the video stream. Auction companies could lean into drama, perhaps consider more time before and between horses, more pauses in the bidding action auction. Maybe some quick interviews after buyers sign the sales tickets, confetti cannons when a new sales topper sells, or drawings for credit vouchers and prizes every twenty sales. These are just a few ideas.

Why bother to change the formula?

People like a show, people like drama, and people enjoy the fun. At the core, this will still be an auction where good yearlings will sell for high prices, and lesser stock will struggle. Other sports realize the power of their drafts for their businesses. They are learning ways to capitalize on hopes, dreams, and data in a digital world. We can join them.