Rather than an ornate ceremony in Las Vegas, this year’s NFL Draft is going digital.
Draft picks for the 2020 season will be announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from his home after the Coronavirus pandemic forced the event’s cancellation. The draft runs from April 23 to April 25 on ABC, ESPN, and the NFL Network, as well as on each station’s apps. It is the first big sporting event to take place during the pandemic—other events including Wimbledon, The Masters, and the rest of the MLB season have all been canceled. For the 2019 draft, 600,000 fans attended in person, and while that is impossible to recreate for 2020, ESPN will scour TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter for fan reactions to share during the live event. Having the draft could reassure fans that life—and football—will soon get back to normal.
Despite the draft’s abnormal circumstances, over 100 brands have agreed to sponsor. With the economy fumbling and marketing campaigns put on hold, gathering such a large number of brand sponsors gives hope to marketing initiatives post-Coronavirus. As sponsors, the brands have the opportunity to drive awareness through display ads and social media, according to a Gartner report on the topic. Additionally, the increase in television consumption during the pandemic could help the draft score strong engagement rates from the millions of viewers staying home. Lowe’s is this year’s largest advertising sponsor and will run commercials on ESPN through its new marketing campaign, “Home Is What Unites Us”. As part of the NFL’s relief efforts during the crisis, a “Draft-A-Thon” will run simultaneously on social media. The virtual fundraiser also includes a designated website where fans can donate to a Coronavirus Relief Fund, adding to the $76 million already donated by the league.
The NFL Draft is pressing on, becoming the first live sporting event in the U.S. in over a month. Combining the event’s routineness with the unprecedented demand for brand advertising could prove a silver lining for the future of sports marketing.