Virtual Draft and NFL Rules Help Forge Unique Brand Integrations

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  • ESM represents Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift, and Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins.
  • The NFL has told draftees to not show non-league partners in the live broadcast shots from their homes.

jonathan taylor wisconsin
Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2020 NFL Draft representing the marketing interests of three projected first-round picks, Everett Sports Marketing founder and Director of Football Dan Everett said the agency had big plans for its clients in Las Vegas.

But as the draft has gone virtual and players and their representatives have had to adjust to the NFL’s regulations around how non-league sponsors can activate with players, Everett said the agency “had to go back to the drawing board and be more creative.”

“For the national and regional brands our players are doing deals with, many of those brands wanted to activate around the draft,” Everett said. “When the NFL sent out the direct instructions on what can and cannot be shown, it made our job much more difficult.”

ESM represents Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift, and Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins.

“All of these guys are seven-figure guys, which is the rookie marketing standard off the field,” Everett said. “There has been more work to accomplish that this year given the situation – what might have been public appearances or public brand activations now have to be done digitally, and that is reflective of the deals that they’ve signed.”

That had led to some innovative deals with partners not typically aligned with NFL draft prospects.

For example, the deal between Taylor and Wisconsin-based pizza restaurant chain Toppers, which Everett called the “largest pre-draft marketing deal of any player in this draft class.”

Taylor signed a lifetime deal with the chain that includes “significant percentage ownership” in four Madison, Wisconsin, franchise locations, Everett said.

Higgins has a unique deal as well, signing a partnership with Hot Wheels and becoming the first athlete ambassador for the die-cast toy car brand. When he first started playing football, his aunt told him that if he scored touchdowns, he would get Hot Wheels cars, which drove him to play even better.

Taylor has signed deals with Under Armour, Ascent Protein, EA Sports, Panini, Bose, Fanatics, UW Credit Union, and Toppers.

Swift has deals with Nike, EA Sports, Panini, Beats by Dre, Fanatics, and Ascent Protein.

Higgins has deals with Nike, BMW, Hot Wheels, EA Sports, Buffalo Wild Wings, Beats by Dre, Panini, and Ascent Protein.

Everett said that 60% of those deals have been announced and activated against at least one week ahead of the draft. If the draft was in Las Vegas, it likely would have shifted to more of those deals being announced and activated against after the draft.

One of the biggest issues Everett and his team are now managing is how brands can – or cannot – be integrated into each player’s live shot when they are picked.

The NFL issued guidance to each of the 58 players who would be filmed from their homes that if the a logo of a non-NFL partner brand was in a shot, the league and its broadcast partners would not air it.

Everett said that considering the NFL and the networks are not compensating those players for that content – the NFL is donating $2,500 to each of their high schools – he personally believes the players should be able to activate with brands they have signed deals with, regardless of the NFL relationship.

All three of the players that ESM represents are projected to be chosen in the latter half of the first round at the earliest, so Everett said he and his team would be following the first few picks even more intently this year.

“We will be paying as much attention to who gets picked, but also how brands are integrated,” he said. “When Chase Young gets picked, what happens if he features a non-NFL brand in his draft call? We’re going to have to see how he does that, and how aggressive marketing representatives are going to be.”