When the 2019 NFL Draft kicks off tonight in Nashville, Music City will become the fourth different location in the last four years to host the league’s annual player-selection meeting, following Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago. While Nashville is the nerve center, with three networks – ABC, ESPN and NFL Network – broadcasting all or part of the three-day event, NFL teams across the country will be hosting their own draft parties. The stated reason for these parties is to celebrate the influx of new talent, but the real goal is to energize and engage their fan bases.
According to Seth Rabinowitz, president of Rabinowitz Ventures and a former marketing exec with the New York Jets, the team draft party is the unofficial start of the new season.
“The span of time between the final game of the prior regular season and the draft is probably the longest single period of time where there’s really nothing to do,” said Rabinowitz. “There’s no touch point. So it’s important to re-engage with your fan base after basically four months of idle time. Strategically, that was always really important. You don’t want to let too much time pass between touches.”
So while the personnel departments at all 32 NFL clubs are busy putting the finishing touches on their draft boards, other executives around the league are preparing these draft events. A vast majority of teams host parties – some at their facility, others at a local bar or restaurant. Some are held Thursday night, during the first round of the draft. Others are all-day events held on Saturday, when rounds four through seven take place.
There are three varieties of draft party. On a smaller scale, there might be an exclusive gathering for team sponsors and business partners. “It’s a good excuse to do something that you like to do periodically from a relationship standpoint,” said Rabinowitz.
There might be a larger, still-exclusive party for season-ticket holders. “You’re always looking to add value to that season-ticket ‘basket of goods,’” he said. “So a draft party is a nice one.”
Finally, some teams will open their stadium and invite all fans. Most of these events are free, though some teams charge for admission. In those cases, the fee may include autograph sessions and photos with current players.
Some teams, like the Minnesota Vikings, will host a tiered draft party. The Vikings’ “Largest Party the North Has Ever Seen” is sponsored by Miller Lite and takes place Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. General admission is $20, but the sold-out VIP tickets ran at $125 and include preferred seating, complimentary dinner, drinks and gifts.
The Dallas Cowboys’ draft party, also sponsored by Miller Lite, takes place at The Star, the team’s headquarters in Frisco, Texas. It’s free to the public and takes place all three days of the draft.
The most ambitious draft party might be the one being thrown by the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers hope to engage their existing fan base but also add to it as they enter their third season in Los Angeles. So they rented out a large section of the iconic Santa Monica Pier for an event open to all fans.
“The Chargers draft party has always been a private event for season-ticket holders, but we really felt it was important to not only give them a great experience but also open it up and build new fans at the same time,” said Chargers CMO Steve Ziff. The team rented out a restaurant adjacent to their space at the pier, where they’ll host sponsors and business partners. The entire event is free to the public.
“Our biggest goal is to blend back to L.A. as much as we can,” said Ziff. “Do some cool stuff for our fans, give them some experiences that they traditionally can’t get on their own and bring the Chargers to them.”
Whether or not a team’s draft party has free admission, sponsors underwrite much of the expense anyway.
“We never had any trouble finding sponsors for this,” Rabinowitz said of his experience with the Jets. “It’s valuable sponsor inventory. It’s a chance for sponsors to activate, to have an on-site presence, for them to get re-connected with the fan base after a period of idle time.”
Draft parties might not be a big revenue stream, but between sponsors and concession sales, there is some money to be made. Even if costs a team money, Rabinowitz said, it’s still a good idea.
“I think it would be well worth doing as a way to add value to the season-ticket proposition,” he said. “That’s a huge revenue stream and certainly worth investing against.”