Athlete representatives heading into the 2020 NFL Draft aren’t fully sold that this will be a completely different NFL Draft when it comes to marketing opportunities.
The lack of parties, on-the-ground press opportunities, and fan fest present a challenge for marketers and the athletes they represent, but with those challenges comes opportunity. Rather than the standard mix of in-person opportunities in Las Vegas, the virtual event has provided marketing teams the ability to flex their muscle.
Athletes First Vice President of Marketing Austin Lyman said his team of six each came up with two ideas they wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to roll out.
“The opportunity is endless for brands and athletes,” Lyman said. “It’s certainly going to be different. It’s the first time any league has hosted a virtual experience like this, they have the tech to create something special, and brands have worked for weeks to maximize this unique opportunity, and we’ve reacted similarly.”
Perhaps part of the challenge for marketers is a few curveballs beyond the virtual component that have been thrown their way. For starters, the NFL has placed restrictions on the brands that prospects can promote or showcase when featured during the draft. The players could face fines if a brand outside the league’s 50 official sponsors is seen within the camera range of the NFL broadcast.
So unless an outside brand is willing to pay those potential fines, it’s unlikely a player will be wearing Beats By Dre headphones when he’s selected rather than a set by league-approved Bose.
“These rules could cost them money,” Brad Cutler, president and CEO of sports agency The Cut, said. “It doesn’t allow the marketer to go out and seek other opportunities. They’re only allowed to work within the sponsorship frame. A lot of times, you want to go out there and do fun guerrilla marketing opportunities, and these rules don’t allow you to do so.”
There is also the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, and several marketers told FOS they’ve seen brands pull back completely from otherwise hefty spends during the NFL Draft.
Octagon Executive Vice President Arnold Wright said the league’s major partners are contractually bound to spend and are now repurposing and pivoting their buys, such as yogurt brand Oikos Triple Zero which moved its focus to an ad featuring more than a dozen former draft picks.
“I would expect there’s a robust opportunity,” Wright said. “My sense is you’ll see a deeper layer of engagement, some of the traditional elements may be complemented with new techniques this year. A lot of brands and rights holders are learning about consumption and disruption, and frankly, there are a lot of habits forming right now that will last far beyond this time period.”
Lyman said there would also be plenty of brands that find their way around the NFL guidelines to get as close as possible to the biggest sports event in weeks.
“They’re diving in and taking advantage of this unique opportunity to activate, and as the week unfolds, it will be surprising to see some of the brands that are there, while others you’d expect are nowhere to be found,” he said.
While some brands could be worried about the quality of content, Lyman is confident self-shot content by athletes is a piece of the future marketing world. Lyman said the trend of athletes shooting their own content will grow the longer social distancing rules are in place.
“There’s a level of authenticity there that’s not with professionally produced content,” he said. “As some other brands see what brands are doing around the draft, it will probably inspire them to get creative.”
Wasserman Vice President CJ LaBoy said there’s normally not a lot of extra endorsement money thrown around for most rookies, and that, aside from the brands that have made their commitments already, others have been reevaluating their approach.
The real opportunity in the midst of a global pandemic, LaBoy said, is for players building their brand reputation with charitable causes.
Beyond the NFL broadcast, there could be added value from the attention the draft receives in a world otherwise devoid of sports.
Priority Sports President Kenny Zuckerman used the example of Wisconsin-based Toppers Pizza signing a lifetime partnership deal with Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor which includes four franchises in the Madison, Wisconsin area. Those local-type deals are a normal staple for high-profile picks heading to their new markets, and likely won’t change this year, Zuckerman said.
“That’s a really smart business move on Toppers part to extend their reach and get their tentacles around someone they normally wouldn’t,” Zuckerman said.
The Last Dance, ESPN’s much-hyped 10-part Michael Jordan documentary, averaged more 6.1 million viewers for its first two episodes on April 19 setting a new record for an ESPN documentary debut, helping showcase the thirst for new sports content. Cutler said he expects that pent up demand to also impact the NFL Draft, predicting all-time high viewership numbers.
Aaron Henderson, who represents New York Jets linebacker Tarell Basham, said he feels the added eyeballs on a player like LSU quarterback Joe Burrow will make his brand value exponentially higher.
“If you were a little too comfortable with the traditional lineups and events, you might be scrambling,” Henderson said. “But with a creative team and status of a player, they both can be in line to make a lot of money and show the future of marketing.”