2020 NFL Draft: 5 Things to Watch For

April 22, 2020

By: Brad Griffiths, Senior Director, Sports Marketing                                      [Header image credit: Canva]

COVID-19 may be preventing the NFL Draft from taking place as the grand spectacle that we are used to, but it won’t be without activations or fanfare. The NFL and its partners are adapting their plans to ensure the visibility, suspense, and ceremony we have come to expect from the draft.

It will even have a widespread charity component for the first time. The Draft-A-Thon will raise much-needed funds for COVID-19 relief efforts and will be live streamed on NFL social and digital platforms and featured in live draft coverage.

Here are five more things for brands and marketers to watch for during this year’s NFL Draft, starting Thursday night.

High Viewership

The 2020 NFL Draft will be the first taste of sports normalcy that fans have experienced since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the U.S. and shut down all competition. Deprived fans are clamoring for real-time sports content of consequence during the quarantine and will likely flock to the draft’s broadcast, which is airing on ABC for the second year in a row.

The 2019 NFL Draft was the most-watched in the event’s history, with an average of 6.1 million viewers and 47.5 million viewers total over the three days – that was up 5 percent from 2018. And, the stage is set for this year’s draft to far surpass those viewership numbers. Engagement with live streams and social media commentary, the so-called “second screen” activities, will likely break previous records as well.

Going Rogue?

The NFL sent draft prospects an extensive list of do’s and don’ts that prohibit logos of non-NFL partners from being visible during the live stream. Whereas previous years have seen draftees partnering with brands in addition to the NFL’s list of partners, the league has cracked down in a move that could cost draftees anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 in incremental sponsorship dollars. Even so, we may see brands attempting to ambush the draft with unsanctioned product integrations. Whether the NFL will follow through on policing and blocking these efforts remains to be seen.

A Strong Pivot

Marketers like Procter & Gamble will adjust previous NFL Draft plans, but are still signing and partnering with draftees during the lead up to the main event. From getting ready for virtual red carpets to giving remote interviews, P&G is ensuring that the rookies still experience the draft in style.

Bud Light is also pivoting, launching a charitable campaign to extend the tradition – if you want to call it that – of fans booing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. It’s unusual for the NFL to lean into the commissioner’s notoriety, and hard to imagine the league green-lighting this idea in years past.

Meanwhile, Oikos Triple Zero will host the Official NFL Draft After-Party, virtually of course, on Shaquille O’Neal’s Instagram where he will DJ and be joined by celebrity guests and athletes.

Physical Distancing

We’re used to seeing large gatherings for the NFL Draft, whether in the live event where fans huddle together and flamboyantly rep their teams, or inside the players’ homes. However, with CDC guidelines still in place, the NFL has informed agents that they will not show the live feed of any rookie if it appears that they have more than eight people in a room together. Will the producers devise some way to integrate exuberant fan reactions?

Playing the Odds

DraftKings has gotten creative to encourage betting on the draft, with free pools, new types of outcomes to wager on, and color commentary from Spice Adams. These are just some of the ways the brand has adapted to keep fans entertained and engaged in a world without live sports. For example, users can now draft lineups from simulated Madden games, and compete for big prizes related to live TV (e.g., Survivor, Shark Tank, Real Housewives).

The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off with round one on Thursday, April 23 at 8 p.m. ET and will be televised live on ESPN, ABC, and on the NFL Network.

TMA’s Director of Entertainment Chris Simmons contributed to this story.