Draftniks: The Rise of the Mini-Kipers

In a one-bedroom basement apartment in Astoria, Queens, four guys sat around a glass table broadcasting an online radio show about the NFL Draft. Their “studio”—located just inches away from Rick Serritella’s twin-size bed—was a configuration of two laptops, two mics and a speaker phone. This is what the 28-year-old Serritella traded for when he quit his job as a CBS segment producer last December to work full-time on his company, the NFL Draft Bible.

“This is my passion,” he said, of monitoring the NFL Draft. “This is my love. Some people would die to be a CBS producer, but I walked away from all that to pursue my dream.”

When ESPN first broadcasted the draft in 1984, very few people, if any, could say their dream was to cover the NFL Draft. Remarkably-coiffed ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. made a career out of being one of the only people in the world who had any in-depth knowledge on the subject whatsoever.

But things have changed.

Since the mid-80s, viewership of the draft has almost quadrupled. And in the last few years, interest has boomed. In 2005, the Nielsen ratings for the draft were 4.3; in 2006, 4.7 rating; and last year, 5.0.

That’s 5.5 million people watching middle-aged men announce names on a podium.

“It’s unbelievable to me how the draft gets bigger every single year,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “It’s the sense of hope for all 32 NFL teams and their fans. It’s basically the kickoff of what is the longest off season in sports.”

However, there are those, like Serritella., who take this niche interest further—much, much further.

They record and watch hundreds of games; they spend hours researching prospects online; they create mock drafts and analyze players; when you call them during the NFL Combine, which was broadcast on the NFL Network for the first time in February, they say, “Call back later—they’re running the 40s now.” Some of them do this in their free time, and others have quit their job to do this full-time. They spend anywhere from 30 to 80 hours a week perfecting their web sites because, they say, they love it.

They are the neo-draftniks.

The term “draftnik” was first coined to describe those self-described nerds who obsessed over the NFL Draft. But those very few turned into very many, and now, there are thousands of NFL Draft sites on the internet with urls like nfldraftdog.com and footballsfuture.com.

Halfway through the NFL Draft Bible radio show, Serritella and his three colleagues were interrupted by a Direct TV technician drilling in a nearby apartment. Nevertheless, the show had to go on—after all, around 2,000 people download the show from iTunes every week, most of whom have no idea that the show is recorded from a shoebox apartment next to a Chinese restaurant.

The company also produces a constantly-updated website and an annual draft guide.

Daniel Mogollon, the vice president of NFL Draft Bible, also does this full-time. Dressed in a blue hoodie and a Syracuse Orange t-shirt, the 33-year-old Mogollon said, “We fill an interest gap between the last game of the season and training camp. We hit that little niche interest.”

But even being a niche market, there is now enough demand for content that draftniks can make a living off of running their sites.

Five years ago, Lou Pinckney, 30, thought it would be fun to put up his own mock draft on his personal web site. But, unexpectedly, the mock draft drew so many people to the site that he decided to buy the domain draftking.com and start his own draft site.

Last October, it turned into more than a hobby, when an advertising company approached him about possible opportunities to make money off his site, so he left his job at a water management company to work full-time on the site. He said he makes enough money to support himself.

He currently spends at least 40 hours a week on his site and, according to quantcast.com, he gets upwards of 90,000 visits a month.

“It’s almost like a built-in excuse to watch football during the season,” said Pinckney, who lives near Nashville, Tenn. “But I’m not trying to be the one trying to be the one critiquing the players. I’m more so looking at the trends of other analysts.”

There are draftniks who compile film and analyze it themselves, like Rob Bryant, who runs nfldraftdog.com.

A Federal Reserve police officer by night and draft junkie by day, Bryant, who lives near Kansas City, got involved with prospect analysis after posting on a forum and receiving positive feedback.

“So I contacted a web site and asked if they wanted any sports writers, then I started writing for various sites before starting my own,” he said.

He spends about 30 hours a week on his site an, according to quantcast.com, is getting more than 150,000 visits per month.

During a typical week, he records dozens of games (he has a handful of football cable packages) and watches the tapes multiple times.

“I’ll look up people who have NFL potential and take notes,” he said. “Later on, I’ll write articles, and include my observations in articles.”

Draftniks: The Rise of the Mini-Kipers