Unless you are a diehard fan, watching three days of the NFL Draft live or on TV can be monotonous, even, as a friend who works for team pointed out, ‘the glitz of day one is for show, the next two days are when we make our dough.” With fewer players attending, the ability for fans to get picks on any device as they are made, and beautiful spring weather, few justify sitting home and awaiting the later rounds, no matter how valuable those picks are to future fandom.
That’s where the NFL continues to step up to bring glitz and attention to the later rounds, something sports outside of the NBA (with only two rounds they still have found some ways to also do this) will continue to emulate and drive some good will. On Day 3 the league went to team creativity to invite military members, current and former NFL players, actors, artists and youth football players to help announce each team’s picks. From first responders to celebs like Jon Pardi (49ers) and “This Is Us” stars Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore calling a Steelers pick (the show has Pittsburgh ties), the window of exposure and interest for casual fans went up exponentially not just on Saturday, but before the Draft as well. It helped make a nonevent noteworthy and gave the teams willing to buy in with a little pop an added marketing and creative bonus without compromising anything going on with the minute to minute decisions football operations were making.
Then there were some of the other moves, good and head scratchers, which infused brand interest, some of the non-Official sponsor type, into the earlier rounds. On the cause-marketing side, the Ravens scored by having 14 year old Make a Wish recipient and Ravens superfan T.J. Onwuanibe call their first pick as a special, ultra-enthusiastic surprise, continuing to find new, authentic ways to tie community and team together in the big picture. League partner Panini also dropped signage into some of the remote locations where players were on day one, gaining some points especially in and around top pick Patrick Mahomes. If Mahomes makes the trip to Philly, that extra pop never happens.
From there we went to the viral and the ambush; first was the ultra-creative ambush that Charmin did for Michigan’s Jake Butt, setting him up with toilet paper at his home and rolling out a full integrated social plan around it, to the Burger King-like attempt by Jack Links to drop “Sasquatch” behind a Links T-shirt clad Charles Harris at the moment he was picked by the Miami Dolphins (they lost even more brand value when ‘Squatch was billed on ESPN as Chewbacca).Jack Links also found their way on the suit Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer , which gained a little more of an authentic push because his deal to wear the Sasquatch themed suit supported his cause of choice, The Andrew Weishar Foundation. Still, ‘Squatch in the background got some viral play, but for authenticity it was a bit on the questionable side, still an interesting push for a disruptor brand with limited budget like Jack Links.
The day three activations continue to get more popular and creative under the NFL every year, and generate ancillary exposure and good will. What will be worthwhile watching, especially as more players stay away from the NFL Green Room and remain in their friendly confines, where TV and the League have less control, are the brands who sign players to promotional deals looking to steal the show on the opening night when millions are watching. It is tough to be authentic with every athlete, and brands look to choose carefully for several reasons; first it needs to have bounce beyond just some notes and tweets…a measureable ROI. Second for those brands looking long-term the quick hit that disrupts the NFL could have a long tail negative effect. Then third are the players themselves. In a time of athletes being more control of their brand, companies are looking to see the who and what and the strategy of partnerships; us there a plan and a thought? Or is it a quick buck. While it is true agents need to show the money in a sport where contracts are not guaranteed, agreeing to anything and everything and potentially ruining the draft night experience can be pretty negative.
Regardless, some new lessons learned, some best practices expanded, and certainly some sports business things to watch as the NFL wraps its major spring weekend. Big business for the big league hits home again.