2021 NFL Draft: 4 Things to Expect

April 28, 2021

                                                                                                                 [Header image credit: Canva]

By Brad Griffiths, Sr. Director, Sports Marketing and Will Ober, Director, Celebrity & Influencer – Sports

Last year’s all-virtual NFL Draft delivered multiple surprises: it whetted the appetite for fans who were starving for a live sportscast of any kind; plus the homemade realness exposed fans to a human side of coaches and players they rarely get to see (e.g., their homes, their children, etc). This led to the best surprise of all: higher than anticipated television ratings.

This year’s event has the potential to go one better. It will combine the excitement of a live event – the Draft is returning to pre-pandemic form by inviting select prospects to attend in person – with the homespun authenticity of virtual conversations, especially for other top draftees, such as Trevor Lawrence, who have no plans to attend in person. The result: appointment television and potentially increased ratings.

Here are four things we expect to see from the 2021 NFL Draft.

1. New-and-Improved Format

The NFL has announced plans for the Draft to go forward as a live event in Cleveland with fans and select prospects invited to attend. However, it will remain heavily virtual, too, as about half of the expected draftees, including #1 prospect Trevor Lawrence (Clemson QB), are opting to stay remote. Normally 80-90 percent of invited draftees attend in person.

This hybrid format is yet another first for the Draft. We expect it should deliver the best of both worlds – the electricity of a grand spectacle and the charm of players and their families rejoicing at home. 

2. Exciting Story Lines

Offensive players curry the most excitement. And this year’s Draft is loaded with offensive standouts, from Lawrence to Zach Wilson and DeVonta Smith, the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since 1991. And with the NY Jets picking #2 (and likely to select QB Zach Wilson), that should appeal to one of the NFL’s largest markets; with another major market, San Francisco, having traded up to #3 (to presumably also select a QB).

On top of this, the team landscape is primed to produce plenty of surprises and exciting moves. There have been some recent high-profile trades, including some starting quarterbacks, so teams have crucial and highly visible needs.

3. Commercial Appeal

The Draft offers a big opportunity for players to show who they are to brands, and it matters more than ever because many players got less TV time in 2020, due to the truncated season. Also, a number of players who are expected to be highly drafted didn’t play at all last year, because they opted out to avoid Covid. But their endorsement potential remains high. Top quarterback prospects traditionally generate the most marketing interest – and with the 2021 Draft board loaded with quarterback talent at the top, expect to see a number of them appearing in commercial activations. Here are some of the players with the strongest commercial appeal:

  • Trevor Lawrence
  • Zach Wilson
  • Justin Fields
  • Ja’Marr Chase
  • Kyle Pitts
  • DeVonta Smith
  • Jaylen Waddle
  • Trey Lance
  • Mac Jones

4. Brands Are Better Prepared

Last year, Covid mitigated most of the on-site event opportunities. But this year, brands have been given a better opportunity to prepare. And while on-site activations may still be limited, last year’s remote experience forced marketers into virtual programming, laying the groundwork for strong virtual activations at this year’s Draft. So events will be better planned, better produced, more polished, and less forced. And because we’re still in Covid, the opportunity for brands is more diffused and lower cost than the typical Draft pop-up. Among some of the marketers to watch: P&G (Old Spice, Gillette), BOSE, Verizon, Pizza Hut, Pepsi/Gatorade, and Bud Light/Bud Light Seltzer.

The 2021 NFL Draft kicks off with round one on Thursday, April 29 at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised live on ESPN, ABC, and on the NFL Network.

Check out the below articles for more on the 2021 NFL Draft from TMA’s Senior Director, Sports Marketing Brad Griffiths: