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What MLB could learn from other leagues’ online drafts

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The draft will look significantly different than in past years, but it has a chance to make the most of it.

2020 NFL Draft - Round 1 Photo by NFL via Getty Images

The 2020 MLB Draft isn’t here yet, but discussions on how the draft will be put together have been ongoing ever since the season was delayed. The league and the player’s union made a compromise deal back in March on how many rounds the draft will contain on top of a ton of other provisions, and we haven’t heard much about it since then.

In the meantime, we’ve seen the first attempts of other leagues to broadcast their drafts in these uncertain times. The WNBA took the lead, opening their draft on April 17 and headlining their three-round draft with the New York Liberty selecting Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu number one overall. The NFL went next, as the Cincinnati Bengals began the seven-round extravaganza by taking LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the number one pick.

In both cases, the league went out of their way to include as much coverage into the broadcast as possible. The commissioners for both leagues were present via video calls, and camera setups brought the viewers into the homes of a majority of the players selected throughout the process. The broadcast of the NFL Draft even featured a combined coverage from the NFL Network and ESPN, showing a willingness from rival stations to come together and work on prioritizing the event first.

The NFL Draft in particular is known for being one of the sports’ biggest gatherings — and the most attended of any North American league draft, with only the NBA as a competitor. Despite this, the league managed to transition fully online seemingly well. Viewership was up across the board throughout the NFL’s three-day marathon of a draft, though it was no-doubt aided by an audience that is craving any kind of sports content and is stuck at home.

Here is where baseball can make the most out of a tough hand that it’s been dealt. The MLB Draft, unlike the other leagues, has been massively cut down from its normal length. While there is an entire discussion to be had about the negative consequences in the aftermath of that decision, one positive thing that does occur is it makes the draft more viewer-friendly. In a time where there are no live games and fans are desperate for something, MLB can broadcast their draft in a similar fashion to how the rest of the leagues do and make it more of a spectacle.

It’s not like the draft just hasn’t been broadcast before, and this is the first opportunity for it. MLB Network hosts the opening rounds every year, and MLB.com hosts a stream for the remaining days of the draft. However, the sheer length of the draft combined with the delayed payoff from draft pick to making an impact on the major-league club has made it less of a marketable event. If MLB Network were to partner with ESPN like the NFL Network did, or FOX Sports or any big cable network, they could make a meaningful impression on a severely unsaturated market right now.

There’s still time to work out the details of the draft, and MLB will likely need all of that time considering just how much will be different. The NBA and NHL Drafts are still ahead of MLB, so they’ll have a couple more test runs to witness before they have to have everything in order. When the time comes, hopefully MLB will be able to deliver a great production not only for the fans, but for the players who will get their names called.