Update (9:12 a.m.): This story has been edited to reflect the fact that NFL Mobile Live is available only to Sprint users, as well as the league's plans for Twittering the draft.
For serious football fans, there is likely no bigger single event--except the Super Bowl--than the annual amateur draft. And as the NFL gets ready for two days of hysteria over where dozens of pro prospects end up, the league has deployed its deepest roster ever of social media tools to ensure that fans' thirst for even the most minute news is quenched.
There's no shortage on TV and on the Internet of expert sources weighing in on the draft-day needs of various NFL teams and their likely moves before, during and after the April 25 and 26 event. But many people are just as, or more, interested in what their fellow fans think about their favorite teams' decisions.
That's why, for the first time, the league has rolled out what it's calling fan "war rooms," essentially team-specific comment forums that are available via a map of the United States that shows each team's logo and the number of comments posted there.
And one thing is clear from the map: the teams with the biggest draft-day needs, in other words, the league's weaker franchises, have the most active forums. That helps explain why, in the wake of the Denver Broncos' much-publicized and highly-controversial recent trade of star quarterback Jay Cutler, its "war room" has far and away the most fan comments.
The aggregated comments feature is the newest NFL.com is employing for draft day, but by no means the only social media tool fans will have at their fingertips as they try to keep up with the flood of news that will peak during the draft itself but that NFL Online general manager Laura Goldberg expects will be heavy both before and after the league's 32 teams make their best stabs at improving their rosters by picking from the pool of eligible amateurs.
Another significant tool is NFL.com's Draft Tracker, an online system that allows fans to look for the latest information and analysis about prospects, positions, colleges, teams, and even draft rounds. So, Goldberg said, fans could see what is being said about all potential draftees from the University of Miami, or all quarterback prospects, or what specific teams are doing.
Once the draft is over, fans will also be able to issue grades for how they feel teams did. Experts' opinions on each team's performance are always hot topics, but now fans will be able to weigh in, and their collective votes will be averaged, Goldberg said, meaning it will be possible to see, in real time, what fans thought of any individual team's draft-day moves.
Goldberg explained that the NFL is also well aware of the popularity of social-networking sites, and as such, it has a new Facebook widget--already downloaded more than 100,000 times--that will update users with the latest draft-related news and video.
And the league is also promoting NFL Mobile Live, a WAP site that will allow any Web-enabled mobile phone on Sprint's network to follow the Draft Tracker. However, despite Goldberg's acknowledgment that the service would probably look best on an iPhone, she said that NFL.com has yet to release an iPhone app for the draft. That's because, she said, the league and partner Sprint are interested in reaching the broad cross-section of mobile device users, including those on BlackBerries, Android phones, and others.
For now, there is also no official NFL draft-related Twitter account, but Goldberg said that the league would be tweeting from the site of the draft.