With the NFL Draft going completely virtual this year, many of the league’s 32 teams are turning to their local celebrities to engage with their fan bases stuck at home.
One of those clubs is the Washington Redskins, who will have Washington, D.C. native and Grammy-nominated rapper Wale guest host the team’s virtual draft party on April 25.
Though they’ve collaborated in the past, the lyricist and the Redskins had not worked together in recent years, said Marcus Stephenson, the team’s head of digital marketing. Over the past couple of months, Wale has more deeply reconnected with his childhood team, trying to usher in a new generation of Redskins fans.
“We’ve had a prior relationship with Wale, knowing that he is a DMV resident and a big-time Redskins fan – but we hadn’t talked to him in a couple of years,” Stephenson said. “We knew this year, as we entered this new era, we had some work to do. Part of that is really showing our authentic selves as an organization and connecting with DC and the larger DMV area.”
The Redskins are partly utilizing Wale for what has made him famous: his musical ability. He will be releasing three different Redskins music highlight videos featuring songs from his latest album, Wow… That’s Crazy. Wale also produced and edited each of the tracks’ accompanying videos.
“Football has always been a part of my life, as a player and a fan,” Wale said in a statement issued by the team. “I’m honored to support D.C. and the Redskins by hosting a virtual draft during the quarantine. Given the current circumstances, unity is more important than ever. I need everyone to stay home and stay safe while we celebrate together.”
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The collaboration has helped the Redskins draft efforts gain momentum – more than 10,000 people have RSVP’d to the team’s Virtual Draft Experience.
To Stephenson and the Redskins, Wale is more than just a rapper. He even compared the wordsmith’s role with the team to actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the boost he brought to WrestleMania after leaving WWE as a full-time wrestler.
When WrestleMania XXVII took place in April 2011, The Rock was one of those in attendance. It was his first appearance in a WWE ring in seven years – and he arrived not as a wrestler, but as the event’s host.
For the draft weekend, Stephenson sees a comparison between the two situations. “When WrestleMania 27 was out there, [WWE] had The Rock as a guest host,” Stephenson said. “He didn’t wrestle, he didn’t do anything, but he was a guest host – that’s what Wale is to us here.
In addition to his musical contribution, Wale will be in the broadcast booth with other Redskins analysts, interviewing the team’s coaches and players during draft weekend.
“We know that we need to provide an unparalleled level of access that no one has ever had before in order again to grab their attention,” Stephenson said. “We need to be able to program it with compelling content throughout the show so that people feel like we are changing it up enough again so that they can tune in for a long period of time.”
Wale’s appearance in the Redskins’ virtual draft party is only one piece of the team’s Virtual Draft Experience this year, which is presented by 7-Eleven. Over the first two days of the draft, Redskins coaches and current and former players like Dwayne Haskins and Brian Mitchell will appear on the live-stream broadcasts, including Facebook, Instagram Live, Twitter, YouTube, and the team website.
The entire broadcast has been created through Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) Studio, a free, open-source, cross-platform streaming and recording program, Stephenson said. Analysts and guests will call into the Redskins, who will connect them through the OBS software.
On the production side, the Redskins will be taking a page out of the gaming industry to prevent any technical difficulties. The team is using Discord, a Zoom-like video call and chat app frequently used by popular gamers, YouTubers, and Twitch streamers to communicate with fans. The audience will be able to see the entirety of the Redskins’ OBS production set and what it entails.
“We have the ability to create scenes, transitions, and stingers in order to have the ability to invite multiple guests onto a show at the exact same time,” Stephenson said. “We can transition them like you would see in a typical television broadcast and control it all remotely from your home we needed to, which is what we knew: was the uncertainty of what was going to potentially happen. We knew we had to plan for that potential level.”
Past years have seen the Washington Redskins work with notable athletes like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin. While the team does like to interact with its celebrity fans, it wants to make those relationships more than a one-time affair, Stephenson said.
That starts with Wale, whose inclusion into this year’s NFL Draft is the next step in furthering his relationship with his hometown team.
“While we wanted to create an authentic connection with Wale, this is not just a one-off with Wale,” Stephenson said.
“We do like to keep in touch with our celebrity fans on a regular basis,” he added. “As the influencer world gets to be more prominent, we want to be able to maintain those relationships so that we show value to them from an authenticity perspective. We want to bring them into the fold and let them feel like they’re a part of us and that it’s not so transactional.”