The men who know the NFL draft

Story by Chris Graham

Their Web sites have your attention as draft day draws near.

Admit it – you wonder about the people who run them, where they get their information, whether they’re just regurgitating the opinions of other draftniks.

“I would say that the vast majority of the people running those sites have a subscription somewhere, and they’re just recycling things that they’ve heard. But to me, there’s no substitute for what your own eyes can tell you,” said Matt Bitonti, the publisher of DraftDaddy.com, which provides in-depth NFL draft analysis year-round.

“We really just love the draft – and when you love something as much as this, you have to get as much information as possible to do it the way you want to. And it became clear pretty early on that you can’t rely on anybody else but yourself. I mean, when you go and meet a player and shake his hand and talk to him for a while and watch him do little things, you get a good feel for what kind of a person he is and what kind of a player he is,” Bitonti told The Augusta Free Press.

DraftDaddy.com is one of a handful of Internet sites that offer the real deal in terms of original draft coverage. Bitonti and his staff devote thousands of hours of time to breaking down game film and traveling to postseason all-star games.

Scott Wright at NFLDraftCountdown.com takes a similar approach to putting together his scouting reports. Wright launched his first draft site in 1997 “basically as a hobby to put my opinions out there and do my mock drafts,” he told the AFP.

“At first, all it was was a main page with a mock draft. That’s all I had – a mock draft and some analysis,” Wright said. “I like to write and spout my opinions – so I’d write my opinions on why each team was going to make such-and-such pick. That’s all the site was – it was basically just one page.

“When I decided to make a full go of it, I decided to start adding scouting reports. This year, I have well over 400 in-depth scouting reports with strengths and weaknesses that I’ve gathered from watching all the game tapes,” Wright said.

Wright also travels to regular-season and postseason games to get the different feel that seeing a player in person can provide. Allen Trieu, the editor of DraftShowcase.com, has been doing the same since getting credentialed to cover the NFL Combine in Indianapolis as a college freshman.

Trieu put together his first NFL draft site in the eighth grade after learning Web design in a middle-school class

“I kind of concealed my age for a few years – until my site had built up a lot of credibility,” Trieu told the AFP. “I started getting more and more into it. I started getting tape submissions. I started getting invited to events, getting invited to games. It really kind of snowballed. It was supposed to be a hobby, but it turned into something more.

“A lot of it has to do with building up contacts within the league,” Trieu said. “Most of the time it’s agents or scouts. Actual NFL personnel men are only willing to help so much and give so much information. But I get tapes from agents. I have pretty good contacts there. I’ve built up good contacts within athletic departments at colleges – and they’ll send me season-highlight tapes and game film.”

Trieu concedes that balancing his class schedule – he’s a college junior – with his draft-analysis schedule can be difficult sometimes. “When I get free time, I sit down and try to break down tape,” he said.

Bitonti as well has to juggle a day job with his work on the draft.

“I’ve only known about three or four people who do draft analysis as their job,” Bitonti said. “Most people in the quote-unquote ‘industry’ have an alternate source of income that pays the bills – because let’s be honest, if there was a reliable way of making money, the draft season is only January to April. And then after that, it’s pretty much only the diehard people or families or whoever who are following the stuff until next season, when teams start getting eliminated from the playoffs.

“So it’s a very seasonal activity – and it would be hard for most people to make their income purely on that,” Bitonti said.

Wright has figured out a way to do so at NFLDraftCountdown.com.

“This is my full-time job. It’s what I do essentially 365 days a year,” Wright said. “In the summer, it slows down for the months of June and July – but I’m still getting ready and geared up for the next year. I launch the site with info for next year’s draft on July 1 – so I spend most of May and June getting ready for 2007.”

Sites like NFLDraftCountdown.com and NFLDraftBlitz.com bring in revenues based on the thousands of unique visitors a day that visit their Web pages.

“For us, it’s split between advertising space, banner ads and our premium section,” said Chris Horwedel, president of NFLDraftBlitz.com, which debuted in 1999.

The premium section of the site is a relatively new addition, Horwedel told the AFP – “barely more than a year old, and it isn’t enough to be a full-time income just yet.”

Paid-access sites could be the wave of the future in the draft industry. Bitonti, for one, isn’t among those out there looking for a surfboard.

“There are sites that are pretty well-known sites that are subscription based. That’s a business model that people tend toward when their site gets success. But we’re never going to do that,” Bitonti said.

“We’ve made the conscious decision that we’d rather talk to 10,000 new people a day than the same 200 subscribers every day. It is a way of making more money, but at the end of the day, you’re not reaching as many people,” Bitonti said.

And in the end, that’s what it’s all about, these draft-themed Web sites – sharing opinions about who should go where like football fans have done for years and years at the neighborhood bar, only the neighborhood bar today is the Internet, and you can reach 10,000 people as easily as you can the guy on the next stool.

“We had 13,000 unique visitors here today on a Monday. Can you imagine if you had 13,000 people in a room, and you were talking to them? That’s what you’re doing. It’s about reaching people, having a voice, having an opinion,” Bitonti said.

“To this day, I’m amazed at how much it grows – and every time I think it can’t get any bigger, it does. It goes to another level,” Wright said.

“I think that’s in correlation to the NFL draft. It’s become so popular – and there’s really no end in sight for the growth of that, either. I think that’s carried over to the NFL draft industry in terms of Web sites,” Wright said.



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