NFL, Marketers, Fans Caught In The Draft

Every day can't be your birthday, but for NFL fans, there are plenty of days in spring that provide gifts for the fall-winter 2015 campaign to come.

More than any other pro league, the NFL has managed to extend its traditional season into a 12-month celebration.

And marketers couldn't be happier.

Barely two weeks after the Super Bowl comes the Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour. In late March are league meetings among owners, general managers and coaches, which garners national coverage and intense local coverage from the home bases of the 32 teams.

The release of the NFL schedule generates its own celebration, which on April 21 was feted by several hours of coverage on ESPN and Fox Sports in addition to NFL Network stationing cameras and crews in various cities.

The NFL Draft used to be held behind closed doors with no TV coverage. That changed in 1980 when ESPN first televised the selection process. Last year, a record 45.7 million people watched all or parts of the Draft on ESPN and NFL Network.

This year, the 80th NFL Draft will, beginning April 30, see three days of selections in Chicago's Auditorium Theater covered by, as the NFL itself said, "a record-high [number of] hours of live coverage, an extensive talent roster of analysts, reporters and college coaches, and 16 draft war room cameras providing behind-the-scenes access" on ESPN and NFL Network.

As if they need it, ESPN and NFL Network have loaded up with commercials touting the Draft, which will see in person the likes of 26 top selections (but not quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who both have opted to remain at their respective homes and participate via live feed).

ESPN will have 42 hours of NFL Draft-related programming April 27-May 3, including 16 hours of live NFL Draft telecasts; episodes of "Draft Academy" and "Gruden’s QB Camp," editions of “NFL Live” and “NFL Insiders” televised from Chicago and for the first time live editions of SportsCenter at the Draft itself.

Leading to the event, NFL Network will have 79 hours of live “Draft Week” coverage, presented by Verizon, Lexus and Bridgestone, including cameras in 16 team facilities.

The NFL rolls on despite serious challenges involving issues of concussions, PEDs, child abuse and "deflated balls." Pro football is by far the most popular sport in the U.S., according to a recent Harris Poll, although baseball is closing the double-digit gap and college football is a surging third.

Due to a series of logistics and a quest to extend its marketing reach, the league returns the Draft to Chicago for the first time since 1964 (having been in New York since then), bringing with it a multi-day fan-fest similar to the spectacle that the NFL builds for Super Bowl. And yes, said the league, it is paying off.

"What appeals to me most is that returning the Draft to the great Midwest is a great opportunity for us," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a media conference in March. "It’s exciting for the fans. It’s great for us. It’s great for our partners."

According to Goodell, "There is more demand so we are trying to make sure we can meet that demand. It’s going to be a great experience. Fans will be coming from a broader region."

Among the activations, Draft Town presented by Oikos Triple Zero is described as a "sprawling fan festival" in Chicago's downtown Grant Park. The free event will also see marketing from NFL partners including Bud Light, Nike, Wilson and USA Football.

The NFL is using the Draft to jump-start its year-long campaign leading to the golden anniversary Super Bowl 50, being played this February in Levi's Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers. That includes a gold-themed Draft logo and a gold carpet on which draftees and celebrities will enter the venue.

There was significant interest in hosting the Draft once the NFL declared its intention to move from New York. The Chicago experience will give the NFL, marketing partners and future potential host cities a good barometer as to what works and in which areas to build.

Among other sites, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, has expressed his desire to have the Draft in AT&T Stadium.

Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston and Los Angeles also could place bids.

"The response we are seeing from everyone in Chicago gives us a great deal of excitement over this event. It continues to get bigger," said Goodell. "So, we are excited about what’s going to happen there.The numbers keep changing about what the expectations are for how many people are going to be there. But I think the people of Chicago are going to over-deliver. And we are excited."

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