NFL Draft Holds Huge Promise For Experiential Industry

DIRECTV’s True Fan Zone awaits fans at the 2017 NFL Draft Experience

If you follow music trends, you know that in the age of digital streaming, the money is no longer in the album sales but in the live performances.

This trend is beginning to bear out in other industries as well, and this past weekend saw the production of one of the most successful live events in all of North American sports, the NFL Draft.

Why is it so good? It’s simple – unlike other marquee events like the Super Bowl or the Final Four, the NFL Draft offers something for fans of all teams. Each participates several times (unlike the NBA Draft, where some teams have traded away all their picks before the event begins), and each has reason for optimism – at least until the clock starts.

The draft has had relevance as a televised event in the past, but the relatively recent decision to expand the event to three days and move it to new locations has given the league the opportunity to build out a festival atmosphere surrounding it.

This year’s edition in Philadelphia showed exactly the promise this holds for NFL fans and brands looking to create experiential activations for them, with over 250,000 flocking to the Ben Franklin Expressway over three days to take part in the NFL Draft Experience. And while there were several brands there activating*, there is an immense opportunity for more to get involved.

*Full disclosure – IMG LIVE was on site to execute activations for several clients, including DIRECTV, Courtyard by Marriott, and VISA.


So much time, so little to do (wait a minute, strike that, reverse it). The festival gates opened at noon on Thursday, yet the main event didn’t start until 8 pm local. It was a similar scenario on Friday (Saturday more closely matched the timing of the draft). That’s a lot of time to fill. If the NFL wants to keep people active and entertained (or entertaining themselves) for that size window, it makes sense to keep adding experiential activities into the mix. It’s a good problem to have, which leads to the next point.

Hope abounds at the NFL Draft

There is room for more. The activations onsite were engaging and enjoyable, but there were long lines for nearly everything. This tells me there is room for many more installations, which means more brands can enter the space without devaluing it. Only official marketing partners of the NFL can currently activate in the festival space, so expect those companies to take notice of the buzz and engagement we saw in Philly and consider adjust their marketing plans moving forward.

Freedom! Speaking of value – what do great festivals like Coachella, Comic Con, South By Southwest, have in common? They all cost money to participate. The NFL Draft Experience, on the other hand, is completely free for fans, which greatly lowers the barrier of entry.

Have Draft will travel. Philadelphia was a terrific host city for the Draft, as was Chicago the two years prior. It’s safe to expect the NFL will continue this, giving different fan bases the chance to play host and get the full festival experience. This is a great opportunity for the NFL to foster relationships with its fans, and smart brands will take advantage of this as well.

So what does this mean for brands moving forward?


Get specific. While there was certainly a preponderance of Eagles fans on site, fans of every NFL team traveled to enjoy the weekend and create memories for themselves. The more you can tailor your activation to the desires of each fan base, the more impact you can make. That will require extra effort on the front end, but it will be worth it.

Marriott’s 40-Character Dash (AP images)

Get active. The NFL does a great job giving attendees the chance to test their football skills with a number of activities – kicking field goals, throwing passes, running through tackling dummies. How can you take football concepts and apply them in different ways? For Courtyard this year, for example, we gave fans the chance to complete the “40-Character Dash,” which involved trying to spell out a 40-character message on a scaled-down football field, with the best times each day eligible to win prizes. Bridgestone gave people the chance to make a diving catch (landing in a mass of foam squares) and get an action photo of it as a takeaway.

Make it memorable. While some fans may enjoy the draft so much they come back year after year, the majority of fans I met were taking advantage of it being in close proximity to where they live. As a general rule of thumb, the scarcer an opportunity is, the more likely people will want to commemorate it. If you are thinking of putting together an activation at the draft, think about how your presence can elevate the fan experience and give them something to remember it by, whether that’s tangible (a customized jersey) or intangible (shaking hands with your favorite player).

As of this writing, the site of the 2018 draft has yet to be determined. But the word is getting out, and I’d expect even more fans next year to make the trek to experience it. If your brand is wise, you’ll consider doing the same.

Micah Hart is the Director of Content and Strategy at IMG LIVE. Follow him on Twitter here