What advertisers have planned for the NFL’s first ‘virtual draft’
The National Football League’s coronavirus-induced move to convert its draft into a virtual affair—instead of the originally planned glitzy production along the Las Vegas Strip—has forced advertisers to call an audible on their marketing around the event. But dozens of brands are seizing on the unprecedented “virtual draft” in hopes of reaching homebound, sports-starved fans that are expected to tune into the event in record numbers.
Disney Advertising Sales reports that it has lured some 100 brands to advertise during the three-day draft, which will air across ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network starting tonight. That includes more than 60 brands that have never before advertised in the draft.
The event, normally held in city venues that draw thousands of fans in a festival atmosphere, will take on a much different feel. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who normally greets first-round picks on an elaborate stage, will be announcing the picks from his home in Westchester County, New York.
Player interviews, which normally take place as they walk off stage, will also occur remotely. ESPN will keep a skeleton crew at its Bristol, Connecticut studio—including host Trey Wingo—where the network says everyone will adhere to social-distancing guidelines. But a majority of its analysts and commentators will contribute remotely from makeshift home studios. The production, partly handled by Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international technology team, will include 150 different video feeds from nearly 100 locations around the country, according to Disney.
Despite the lack of glitz, the draft is expected to draw a record number of eyeballs. That’s because, quite simply, there is no other sporting competition with the Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association seasons on hold as a result of the pandemic.
Kevin Collins, senior VP of strategic investment, sports and events for Interpublic-owned Magna Global, pointed to the success of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary, as evidence of how much sports fans are craving fresh content. The 10-part series on the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls began with a bang Sunday, averaging 6.1 million viewers for the first two episodes, making it ESPN’s most-watched documentary ever.
“If The Last Dance's success is any indication that there is lack of original content and the desire that viewers have for something or anything pertaining to or close to live sports, the NFL Draft should be well above last year's numbers,” Collins says. “The production of it should be fine and the viewers will tune in to see how they pull it off as well as who their team is selecting.” The 2019 NFL Draft, which was held in Nashville, Tennessee, drew 6.1 million viewers across TV and digital, up 11 percent from the year prior. According to the NFL, it was the most-watched draft in the event's history.
Walking the virtual red carpet
NFL sponsor Procter & Gamble is banking on big numbers this year. The consumer packaged goods giant is putting its biggest effort ever behind the event, including a “virtual red carpet” social-media event for prospects and the break of a new campaign for Gillette.
In-broadcast sponsorships include Verizon, which is backing a “Prospect Cam” that will feature shots of prospects at their homes as they wait for their names to be called. Bud Light is sponsoring a “Virtual Huddle,” which a Disney ad sales representative described as a “branded multibox showcasing numerous ESPN talent from their home set-ups.”
Bud Light is also trying to uphold the draft day tradition of fans booing Goodell, even though the commish won’t be in front of a live audience. The brand, which is plugging its new seltzer variety, is asking fans to record a video of themselves booing, and then post it on social media tagging it with @budlight and #BooTheCommish. Bud Light even convinced the commissioner to have fun with it. A TV ad that will run on ESPN, NFL Network and ABC prior to the first pick shows Goodell sitting on his couch at home while inviting fans to keep the booing tradition alive. The campaign is from Wieden+Kennedy New York.
Pizza Hut’s name will be on a segment called “Draft Moment” that will feature flashbacks to previous drafts, while Lowe’s is presenting sponsor of the ESPN and NFL Network telecast. (ABC is running a separate telecast for rounds 1-3, before joining the ESPN/NFL Network simulcast for rounds 4-7.)
Lowe’s, which became the official home improvement retail sponsor of the league last year, will run ads touting the value of home—playing off the fact that most Americans are homebound. It also partnered with players, including expected top pick Joe Burrow, on a social effort. The former L.S.U. quarterback recently called Lowe’s associates in his hometown of Athens, Ohio and promoted the initiative on his social channels.
P&G’s virtual red carpet will feature videos of 40 draft prospects shot by family members, roommates and girlfriends, then edited by PR shop Taylor Global and posted to the athletes’ social-media accounts, as well as those of sponsoring brands and the NFL. The athletes, in some cases, will wear suits they already had tailored but couldn’t wear in public because of coronavirus shelter-in-place restrictions, or in other cases simply their everyday wear, as part of an effort P&G developed in cooperation with the NFL Players Association.
P&G brands Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Old Spice and Braun will participate in the virtual red carpet, with the first three brands also airing ads on ESPN during the show. In addition, Gillette will use the draft to break a new “Every Day Is Gameday” campaign from Grey New York, featuring draft prospects Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Ashtyn Davis and Cole Kmet, with a 30-second spot to air each day of the draft on ESPN and on ABC Thursday. The campaign will be amplified on Twitter through a FirstView buy on Thursday and a Promoted Trend on Friday.
Gillette celebrity barber Mark Baysinger will be interviewed as part of the NFL’s live-streamed Draft-A-Thon for charitable COVID-19 relief efforts that runs alongside the draft. He’ll highlight shaving product and personal protective equipment donations Gillette is making, including face shields it recently began making at its Boston plant.
“As soon as we learned the NFL Draft would be entirely digital, Gillette pivoted to create a spot that we believe is relevant to this shared experience, with help from the rookies featured in it, and still reflecting the ‘Every Day Is Gameday’ spirit we’ll be showcasing for the NFL season to come,” says John Claughton, brand director for Gillette North America. The campaign extends the personal responsibility idea in keeping with the “Best a man can be” campaign Gillette launched last year—but with an NFL emphasis.
The Old Spice effort includes an appearance by brand pitchman and former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa during the Draft-A-Thon, in which the brand is donating $320,000, or $10,000 on behalf of each NFL team, to the United Way. Old Spice is working with draft prospects Chase Young, Isaiah Simmons, Henry Ruggs III, CeeDee Lamb and others for the virtual red carpet. Those four also are doing media interviews with 20 national sports and lifestyle media outlets about the brand’s donation. And Old Spice is airing “Men Have Skin Too” commercials on ESPN all three nights of the draft, and on ABC the first two nights.
Head & Shoulders is focusing on the launch of its new line of male styling products, working with the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Las Vegas Raiders (yes, the team’s move to Vegas is still scheduled to happen this year), and Kansas City Chiefs, plus prospects Jake Fromm, Al Espenesa, Justing Herbert and Jacob Eason for the red carpet. The players will be putting personalized style-related posts into their social channels, amplified with paid buys. And Head & Shoulders will air a commercial behind its styling products on ESPN and ABC (both broadcast and over-the-top) during the first round, targeting and retargeting the NFL Draft audience further via programmatic, online video and social media later in the draft.
Braun will pair celebrity barber Ray Santos with former NFL defensive end Chris Long and draft prospect Trevon Diggs in a livestream running on Long’s social channels to provide hair-cutting tips for guys during the quarantine. Long and Diggs will also talk about football and the draft on the livestream.
Pizza, chips and wings
Food brands are taking advantage of the fact that players will be watching—and likely munching—from home. Frito-Lay, owned by PepsiCo, an NFL sponsor, sent bags of its Cheetos, Doritos and Tostitos, along with bowls that carry a Tostitos/NFL logo, to players as part of a “welcome kit” handled by the NFL.
Pizza Hut plans to deliver pizza and wings to more than 50 of the top NFL Draft prospects, including Lamb, Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, as they’re hearing their names called.
Current NFL stars JuJu Smith-Schuster, Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley are set to get their own deliveries of Pizza Hut’s big dinner box, which includes pizza and wings, for them to post about on their own social channels. And on Thursday, Seattle Seahawks player Tyler Lockett will serve as a brand ambassador during the NFL’s Draft-A-Thon fundraiser. Pizza Hut also plans to air its “Proud to Serve” spot from GSD&M, a thank you to staff inspired by a general manager’s letter, on all three nights of the draft.
Visa is planning to debut a campaign on Thursday from BBDO that will act as a small business rallying cry. NFL players George Kittle, Larry Fitzgerald and Saquon Barkley star in a spot that urges consumers to support their local businesses, many of which are struggling during the economic downturn. Each player is shown holding a shirt from these businesses, rather than a football jersey. According to a Visa spokeswoman, the spot took just a week to put together, a similar timeframe to Visa’s other recent work during the pandemic, an Olympics-themed commercial around coronavirus safety measures.
And Muscle Milk is set to run a new spot starring Tua Tagovailoa, the former University of Alabama quarterback who suffered injuries during his college career and is expected to be an early pick in the draft. The 15-second spot from adam&eveNYC is part of “Own Your Strength,” the brand's first campaign since PepsiCo bought it from Hormel Foods in 2019.
Contributing: Adrianne Pasquarelli, Jessica Wohl, Jeanine Poggi