The legend goes that when a fledgling ESPN asked NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to televise the 1980 NFL Draft, even the PR-savvy Mr. Rozelle doubted anybody would tune in.
Fast-forward 33 years and John Brody, senior VP-sponsorship and sales for the NFL, expected 50 million viewers to watch the three-day event across ESPN, NFL Network and NFL Mobile last Thursday through Saturday nights.
Among league sponsors and advertisers, the NFL Draft is now viewed as a
"tentpole event" where they can directly connect their brands to the country's
most-popular sports league, Mr. Brody said. A confirmed 19 sponsors activated
around this year's event at Radio City Music Hall vs. 16 in 2012. Among them:
Anheuser-Busch; Nike; Verizon; Pepsi; GMC; Visa; EA Sports; Under Armour;
Gatorade; and Castrol.
Despite the recession, ad support is growing for the NFL Draft, which now
competes with entertainment and reality shows in the heart of prime time.
Advertisers spent roughly $15 million across ESPN and NFL Network in 2012 vs.
$11.9 million in 2011, according to Kantar Media.
Current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell moved Round 1 to Thursday nights in
2010 from its longtime perch on Saturdays. The gamble paid off: ESPN's Round 1
coverage last year averaged 6.7 million viewers and a 4.4 rating vs. 5.1 million
viewers and a 3.4 rating in 2009.
"To the credit of the NFL, it's the most robust league," said Ernest
Lupinacci, founder of branding consultancy Ernest Industries.
"They announced the [2013 regular season] schedule and people went crazy.
It was as if they let us know they were bringing the McRib sandwich back."
"Our sponsors crave more access and more connection to the game the same way
the fans do," according to Mr. Brody. "Our partners are enablers: They're the
ones who connect the sport to the fans."
Here's how sponsors such as Verizon, A-B and Nike integrated their brands
into the festivities:
By: Michael McCarthy