750 players await their fate for a future in the NFL as the league prepares to hold the 2020 NFL Draft virtually. Moving away from the Las Vegas spectacle they had originally planned, the NFL is shifting to a virtual format, where players will be streaming live from their homes instead of sitting in a green room anxiously waiting for their name to be called.
Airing Thursday, April 23 through Saturday, April 25 on ESPN, NFL Network and ABC, this year’s draft will be like nothing we’ve seen before. While the on-screen energy may not palpitate in ways we’ve grown accustomed to, this live sports event holds the power to reignite a community that’s seen the barren side of a sports shutdown for far too long.
Virtual Draft with Physical Regulations
After the decision to close all offices and team facilities, the NFL announced they were still conducting the draft but in a virtual format. Instead of a war-room full of team personnel, GMs will be at home surrounded by several phones and multiple screens, making for one of the strangest drafts the league has seen.
Welcome kits, which were sent by the league to all prospects, included draft policies and guidelines and products from official NFL partners.
Similar to the limitations formerly imposed on Olympic athletes by the IOC’s Rule 40, the NFL is not allowing prospects to promote brands outside of the league’s 50 official sponsors such as Frito-Lay, PepsiCo or Bose.
How will these regulations impact brands who aren’t licensed partners, and will official partners receive more value from this year’s draft considering the highly social nature of the content?
Content Distribution with a Twist
COVID-19 undoubtedly changed the landscape for social conversations and campaigns. The month leading up to the draft has historically given teams the space to leverage their brand and share announcements, with schedule releases being one of the top pieces of shared content.
Some teams are launching giveaways, while others are joining forces with brands to drive awareness or increase conversation. Bud Light, the official beer of the NFL, is taking it upon itself to ensure that “booing” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — a beloved aspect of the NFL Draft — isn’t something lacking from this year’s broadcast.
The brand launched a social campaign encouraging fan engagement which has a charitable component for the Draft-a-Thon relief-aid fundraiser.
Sponsored Virtual Draft Parties
Although most parts of our world are still on lockdown, watch parties are living on — virtually. Teams like the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Chargers are holding elaborate virtual draft parties, creating an online space where their fans can interact and celebrate the newest members of their teams.
Teams are using former players, celebrity fans, musicians and more to host these events, which are presented by team sponsors and will air on platforms like official team websites, team apps, YouTube TV, Facebook TV and across teams’ social channels. The NFL has also loosened streaming restrictions, allowing for more content from these traditionally physical events to be broadcast live.
Last year, 23 players attended the draft in Nashville. The television broadcast delivered the highest ratings in draft history, with 6.1M viewers. As the only live sports content in weeks, This year’s draft will be the first live sports content in weeks, but the event will be virtual. How will those two elements affect viewership? And how will sponsors change their approach to this new broadcast format, where everything is unknown?
As to be expected, this entirely virtual event will have its challenges. Whether it’s a glitch in the stream or a call from Goodell to a prospect that’s on mute, nothing will be typical about this. We’re geared up and ready to see how this draft will unfold. One piece of advice? Expect the unexpected.