How NFL’s Draft magic keeps fans engaged
The NFL may be one of the most successful sport properties in the world, yet every year it faces the same problem – a six month period with no American Football.
From the start of the season in September to the Super Bowl in early February, the NFL is an ever-present part of American culture. But when the season ends and fans turn off their TVs and online streams, the NFL faces the challenge of half a year with no actual competitive sport.
In the ‘always on’ digital world of 2017 where fans oversee the what, when, where and how of consuming content, it is an increasingly tough marketing challenge for a brand to not have enough to shout about.
However, the NFL did not become ‘America’s Game’ by accident and the NFL blueprint for the off-season is one that many sports and brands could do well to learn from.
A much-used strategy in sports marketing is to identify ‘spikes’ of activity throughout the sporting calendar to focus activity, but only having six months of game action is not enough to satisfy the appetite of sport fans.
To combat this the NFL have doubled down on creating its own spikes and given them the full NFL treatment. Within a month of the Super Bowl the NFL runs the Combine – effectively a job interview where the stars of the future are tested in a series of physical challenges all broadcast across multiple channels.
Four days of Combine activity drew 7.25 million viewers on the NFL Network and attracted heavy interest from official sponsors such as Hyundai and Under Armour, through to the unofficial with adidas offering anyone who could break the 40-yard dash record their own island (Washington Wide receiver John Ross duly broke the record but proceeded to lose the island as he chose to wear Nike boots).
A week after the Combine, the free agency period ends and the ensuing player trade frenzy makes the Premier League’s transfer deadline day look like a village green cake sale.
Yet both of these pale into insignificance when compared to the NFL Draft. From its very humble beginnings of 90 names being written on a chalkboard at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia in 1936, the size and global scale of the 2017 NFL Draft is extraordinary.
Last week 250,000 fans attended the Draft over the course of the three-day bonanza in Philadelphia, including a record 100,000 on the first day. In UK terms, the NFL could have sold out Wembley Stadium for what is essentially the world’s biggest recruitment conference.
For the uninitiated, every year the best college athletes are selected one by-one by the 32 NFL teams, with the worst performing team from the previous season taking the first pick on the opening night of the Draft.
While it may sound only appealing to the most dedicated fans, it has become a true ‘I was there’ experience. This year’s ‘NFL Draft Experience’ gave attendees the full experiential treatment including player access, VR training, NFL training camps and exclusive hospitality.
It has also become a seminal broadcast event, both on traditional and digital channels. Last week, 9.2 million people in the US tuned in on TV and online through ESPN and NFL Network as the Cleveland Browns made their first pick.
That activity was mirrored on social media included a particularly enthusiastic announcement from Dallas Cowboys legend Drew Pearson resulting in 30,000 engagements on the Cowboys’ own Twitter feed alone.
The Draft is also very much a global phenomenon, with The Playbook creating UK media content utilising the next generation of British stars from this year’s Draft, namely Obi Melifonwu who joined the Oakland Raiders and Jermaine Eluemunor the Baltimore Ravens.
And, the end result?
Wall-to-wall global coverage across traditional and digital channels, 250,000 engaged experiential fans, millions of social engagements and the NFL fans already salivating for the start of the season…in 130 days’ time.
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