NFL Draft Marketing

You have to give credit to ESPN and the NFL.  A little more than thirty years ago (the original plan to broadcast the draft was hatched in Bristol back in 1980), most people thought televising the draft was a crazy idea.  Critics suggested the draft was unwatchable, especially as an all-day event.  Even those who supported the idea did so with little confidence.  Fast forward to today.  This year, ESPN will spend three days covering the draft, much of it during prime time. The NFL Network will also be broadcasting the event live.  The NFL Network set a draft viewership record last year, averaging nearly 570,000 viewers for its three-day coverage while ESPN averaged nearly 3 million viewers during the same span, according to the Sports Business Journal.  But here’s the thing…the NFL and ESPN are no longer the only brands looking to cash in.

Given the competitive nature of the shoe and apparel business, the number of fans tuning in for the draft provides an excellent platform for footwear and apparel companies like Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Under Armour to showcase their brands.  Notably absent this year, however, will be the Reebok logo on the hats worn by players as they take the stage when their names have been called.  Reebok’s deal with the NFL recently expired and New Era becomes the official on-field cap for the league.  New Era hasn’t wasted any time leveraging the partnership with the league, recently rolling out newly designed draft day caps on the company Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Nike will take over the exclusive uniform rights.  The news of tweaks to uniform designs and fabric technology came with much fanfare, and the company’s “reveal” event created a lot of chatter.  However, the brand announced at the event that new jerseys would not be available for purchase until draft day.  Nobody generates buzz and manufactures demand like the ever opportunistic swoosh.

Never one to stand idly by, long-time Nike rival adidas invested in a lucrative endorsement deal with this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III.  RG3, as he’s also known, is expected to go second overall in the draft to the Washington Redskins (the Indianapolis Colts have reportedly already told Andrew Luck they plan to select him with the number one pick).  You can bet adidas will be doing all they can throughout the draft to maximize the brand’s exposure via their relationship with the popular QB and that of Ryan Tannehill (from Texas A&M), who adidas also recently signed and is expected by many to be the third quarterback selected.  A commercial featuring RG3 is already posted on YouTube…expect to see it many times during draft coverage.

Under Armour, recognizing the potential challenges in gaining prominent exposure for the brand during the draft, focused its efforts to gain consumer attention by building buzz at the NFL combine.  To do so, the brand developed an extensive social media campaign to support its sponsorship of the event.  That strategy allowed the Maryland-based company to effectively promote the brand without getting lost in the draft-day hype of Nike’s new uniforms or the adidas relationship with RG3.

Coverage of the 2012 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 26th at 8:00 ET on ESPN and on the NFL Network (Verizon Wireless users will also be able to tune in on their mobile device).

Side note:  Click here to see footage of the 1981 NFL Draft on YouTube…it really is amazing to see how far the event has come.