May 25, 2023

How brands can score big with the NFL Draft

Henry Cracas

Agency Intern

For most NFL fans, hype comes to a screeching halt after the Superbowl. Fortunately, the NFL Draft occurs in the heart of the offseason. Not only is the draft a chance for hundreds of new players to enter the mix – but it’s a huge opportunity for brands to capture the hearts and minds of a hungry and engaged audience.

Since its first televised appearance in 1980, the NFL Draft has become a hotspot for brands to market themselves. Most recently, the 2023 draft attracted an astonishing 54 million viewers over its three days of picks – making it one of the most-watched TV programs of the year. Unsurprisingly, this viewership has commanded the attention of brands big and small looking to make a splash. What's more: In 2021, the NCAA adopted more progressive name, image, and likeness policies – allowing college athletes to profit from their personal brand. Since then, we’ve seen an uptick in brand partnerships that feature players – allowing brands to score big using a wealth of new talent, tactics, and surprises.

But what does it mean to win as a brand at the NFL draft? Here are my top picks for activations that blitzed the competition. 

Last year, Snickers tapped New York Giants' Kayvon Thibodeaux to launch the SnickerChief, a handkerchief designed to conceal a Snickers bar. And this year, they made another splash in the sweets by introducing Snickers Bryce Cream Bars – a unique partnership with future Carolina Panther Bryce Young. However, Snickers wasn't the only company that collaborated with the first overall pick. Days before the draft, Jordan Brand (of Air Jordan’s fame) announced that Young would serve as their new spokesman for clothing and footwear. Young, arguably this year’s most-skilled athlete, was the focus of many marketing partnerships, as businesses wanted to capitalize on his incredible athletic abilities and magnetic personality.

As Young progresses in his NFL career, his influence as a brand ambassador will also grow. The most marketable sports star of all time, Michael Jordan, once commented, "My game was my biggest endorsement… My dedication to the game led to all of this other stuff. Believe me, if I were averaging two points, three rebounds, I wouldn’t have signed anything with anybody." Snickers proved that a strong brand relationship could be built without reinventing the wheel. Almost any product or partnership can become an instant success if the athlete is a superstar on and off the field.

Beyond the draftees, current NFL stars have also developed creative strategies to market themselves and their affiliated brands. Travis Kelce, a former University of Cincinnati student and legendary Kansas City Chiefs tight end, debuted Kelce Jam (a Kansas City-based concert and food festival) on the same weekend as the draft. Over 18,000 people showed up for the event to witness performers such as Machine Gun Kelly, Tech N9ne, and Rick Ross. 

So, how can your brand make a big play during the NFL draft? Be imaginative first. Because the draft has the attention of just about every football fan after a months-long drought, consider unconventional approaches and unique ways to engage fans. This was demonstrated recently during the 2022 NFL Draft when Desmond Ridder, a quarterback from the University of Cincinnati, starred in a DoorDash commercial. To make ends meet and pursue his NFL dreams, Ridder worked as a DoorDash driver while he was a college student. The promotion documented his journey and concluded with Ridder being selected by the Atlanta Falcons – a heartwarming and inspiring story that captured the hearts of fans.

Next, be authentic. The draft is not a time for your brand to pretend to be something it’s not. Fans are adept at spotting phonies. For instance, in 2021, the NFL collaborated with the cryptocurrency exchange FTX to produce an ad for its platform. In the ad, Tom Brady discussed his digital currency investment strategy using FTX. Some people criticized the commercial for being deceptive – encouraging eager fans to invest in cryptocurrencies without fully understanding the risks involved. Needless to say, FTX’s strategy drew criticism from fans – posing a threat to Brady’s credibility as an influencer.

Finally, consistency is the key. Don't be a fair-weather fan – if your brand shows up for the draft, they should show up for the NFL all season long. If your brand pops in for the draft and then falls off the map – expect fans to call you out in the comments.

Whether or not you’re a football fan, there’s no arguing the significance of the NFL draft. Not only are millions of fans thirsting to get a preview of the season to come, but brands have an opportunity to align themselves with brand ambassadors with hopes of a huge payoff. With another year of groundbreaking activations under its belt, how will your brand prepare for the NFL draft next year?


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