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NFL Partners Must Play Their Cards Right on Draft Night

MVP Tracks Social, Broadcast Performances During Three-Day KC Showcase

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Social Media
Sponsorship Valuation
June 6, 2023
June 6, 2023
 min read

Although the NFL never fully leaves the news cycle, there is a dearth of event programming after the Super Bowl in February until preseason games begin in August each year. However, one weekend in late April always serves to satiate fans’ appetite for the league and build excitement for the upcoming season. Over the years, the NFL Draft has morphed into a three-day spectacle that commands extraordinary attention during a time when other North American sports leagues are either progressing through their postseasons or embarking on new campaigns, so MVP has compiled data to determine how fans consume the event on broadcast and social media as well as what teams and brand partners should know about their audiences’ habits. Overall, we found 33.2 million household viewers tuned in to 2023 NFL Draft coverage across ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network while interacting with team social content frequently enough to generate $20.3M worth of post value from April 27-29 alone. But our analysis digs deeper, highlighting data points critical to team sponsorships. Notably, we used our omnichannel measurement platform to identify how franchises can successfully use branded social content to promote their partners while also exploring predictive strategies for reaching targeted local audiences during broadcast coverage.

Branded Image Content Nets $3.91M

The most effective way of showcasing brand partnerships via social media is through branded image content, and during the NFL Draft, that means draft cards. With each selection, teams share information about their incoming rookies through visual graphics, creating value for sponsors by including brand assets in their imagery. The importance of this approach is supported by data that shows branded image content accounted for only 32.8% of teams’ total post count throughout this year’s draft but generated 61.7% of the brand value. Posts featuring branded image content collectively created 495.5 million impressions in only three days while being responsible for $3.91M in total brand value. The big brand value winners this year were the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, who were the only teams to exceed $400K in total brand value generation and were among eight organizations to exceed the overall brand value average of $122,253. The Cowboys’ popularity helped propel them to the top of our rankings. Their league-leading overall follower count across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter enabled them to finish in the top six of both total impressions and engagements, and their prominent asset placement in draft cards provided the added push to the top of our brand value rankings. The Eagles, meanwhile, ranked first in both engagement rate and engagements while finishing second in total impressions to achieve their lofty brand value total.

But teams like the Cowboys and Eagles are always going to rank highly in league-wide brand value lists thanks to their broad, national fan bases. MVP used our platform to also highlight which teams overachieved or underachieved based on their relative esteem and why. The Jacksonville Jaguars were a prime example of maximizing brand value returns for their partners. Despite finishing in the bottom 10 of our post value rankings, which highlight total potential value based on engagements and impressions, they ranked 9th in our brand value rankings for the weekend. Not only did Jacksonville clearly and prominently showcase partners including Cadillac and Dream Finders Homes in draft card imagery, but they also created additional value by tagging their sponsors in social copy. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, were teams like the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals created waves on draft night by trading the third overall pick to receive a haul of selections from the Houston Texans, and they ultimately shared the seventh-most posts among all NFL teams during the draft. However, conspicuously missing from many – including the draft card for sixth overall pick Paris Johnson Jr. – were any signs of brand partners on their posts. Overwhelmingly, draft cards are the most widely shared pieces of content during the event, so teams that best incorporate their partners will create the most brand value.

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Maximizing Social Brand Value

Further emphasizing the impact of draft cards was data revealing each of the top 10 partnerships during the 2023 NFL Draft utilized branded image content. Unsurprisingly given Dallas’s placement at the top of our overall brand value rankings was a pair of Cowboys partnerships. Draft card sponsors Fanatics and Miller Lite occupied first and second place, respectively, in our list because their logos were clearly integrated into the top left corners of Dallas’s social graphics and both brands were mentioned in social copy. The Cowboys added additional value for Miller Lite by also including #ItsMillerTime in branded image posts. Seattle’s partnership with Lumen Technologies and Green Bay’s collaboration with Meijer ranked third and fourth overall, both exceeding $100K in total brand value. But also of note in the top 10 were the Carolina Panthers’ partnership with Bud Light and the Ticketmaster’s sponsorship of the Buffalo Bills’ draft collateral. The Panthers mirrored Dallas’s approach by showcasing Bud Light in the top right corner of their draft cards and gained significant brand value traction as a result of selecting Alabama QB Bryce Young with the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Panthers-Bud Light connection ultimately placed sixth in our rankings. Finally, Buffalo flexed its social muscle in draft cards featuring Ticketmaster. The Bills ranked 20th in overall post value but strategic use of branded image content elevated them to 11th in our brand value rankings, and Ticketmaster was the biggest beneficiary of their logo placement and partnership-tagging approach. The pair finished 10th in our list of top performers during the Draft.

Fundamentally, how teams use their draft cards throughout the NFL Draft is the best indicator of value generation for their partners. MVP’s data shows clear logo prominence and placement – as well as strategies including tagging partners in copy – in content that is destined to be shared widely among fan bases can maximize sponsorship returns, especially for teams who may not have the same reach as the NFL’s historical franchises.

Regional Audiences Peak During Local Picks

While the NFL Draft annually competes for viewers with the NBA and NHL playoffs as well as opening-month action from Major League Baseball’s season, daily audiences exceeding 10 million household viewers prove NFL is still king. This year’s first round, which took place in prime time on April 27, attracted 10.4 million viewers across three networks, including 8.14 million on ABC. Remarkably, the overall total grew each day, peaking at 12.3 million for rounds four through seven on April 29. ESPN’s total also grew daily, as Saturday’s viewership of 1.75 million was a 34.9% boost from Thursday. Meanwhile, ABC’s third day of coverage was 19.3% higher than its opening night telecast. Conversely – and while accounting for only 8.2% of the Draft’s total viewers – NFL Network’s audiences declined each day.

In addition to determining overall viewership, MVP’s broadcast platform is adept at accurately isolating viewership across designated market areas to provide predictive information regarding how brands can best utilize their broadcast marketing spend. Expectedly, New York was the top DMA throughout the Draft. It accounted for 2.17 million overall viewers while leading all markets every day of the Draft and across ABC and ESPN daily. Notably, Philadelphia was NFL Network’s top draw, as the City of Brotherly Love narrowly exceeded the Big Apple during each day’s coverage on the network. But more important than the overall figures, which are almost universally going to be dominated by major markets, we noticed a minute-to-minute trend among the NFL’s local markets. Broadcast partners can best position themselves to be seen in targeted areas by aligning sponsorship spots with team picks. For instance, we discovered viewership peaked in Charlotte a mere 20 minutes into the first round, right around when the Carolina Panthers selected Bryce Young. By the top of the next hour, viewership in Charlotte had eroded by 29.8%.

Similar trends were evident throughout the NFL Draft’s opening night. The Texans picked second and third, creating heightened suspense roughly a half-hour into the event’s coverage. Accordingly, audience totals peaked in Houston with 325,584 viewers at 8:26 p.m. ET before dropping by 12.9% before 9 p.m. Furthermore, within roughly 40 minutes of the Colts and Seahawks’ selections to round out the top five picks, viewership in their respective Indianapolis and Seattle markets dropped by 28.8% and 15.6%. Although draft-night trades can affect pick timing, the ideal way for brands to reach the broadest possible audience in targeted markets is to position themselves near when local teams are making their franchise choices.

NFL Coverage to Build Until Opening Kickoff

Even during the offseason, no other sports league can match the NFL’s appeal. Across three days of NFL Draft coverage, the event’s average viewership of 11.1 million was higher than last year’s NBA Finals average and this year’s NHL All-Star game, among myriad other events. Meanwhile, the league’s 32 teams combined to create 1.11 billion social media impressions in a three-day span. Value potential for franchises and their partners is abundant, but the approach to generating that value must be calculated. Connect with MVP to learn more about what social strategies worked across draft cards for teams like the Cowboys, Eagles, Jaguars, and Bills while gaining a better understanding of how market-specific broadcast positioning can improve reach and maximize sponsorship spend.

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