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.