Who could have imagined a time when live sports would be paused and re-runs of notable games from previous decades would partially fill the void? While the return of live sports is still to be determined, one organization pressed on and gave sports lovers a glimpse at what’s to come with its annual draft: The National Football League.  

With stay-at-home orders in place, the NFL was tasked with pulling off a virtual event with owners, coaches and athletes scattered across the country. In my opinion, the NFL scored touchdown after touchdown with its new approach – pun intended!

The first-ever virtual draft reached a record 55 million viewers over three days – a 37 percent increase over 2019. Here are three takeaways from the NFL’s win that brands can incorporate into their future programming:

  1. Embrace human elements: Sports teams and their key players are often considered untouchable, but allowing coaches and athletes to come together via the comfort of their homes, surrounded by close family members, gave fans a rare glimpse into their daily lives. Many were casual in their athleisure wear with their kids on their laps as they discussed their picks with colleagues. And, suddenly, these untouchable figures felt just like us. As brands craft stories, produce campaigns and distribute content, it’s important to look for ways to humanize it all and showcase the people that help bring the brand to life.  
  2. Practice makes perfect: The NFL staff was prepared. During the three-day event, the draft experienced very few technical issues. How? Practice. A mock draft was held a few days before the live event, allowing for time to work out any problems. And, when the draft did run into minor technical issues – like videos or audio cutting out – it rolled through them and pressed forward. Scheduling time to run through anything virtual in advance is crucial to its success. This allows event hosts, participants and tech crews to familiarize themselves with the process, to uncover and solve possible issues pre-event, and to be better equipped to tackle issues that arise during the event as well.
  3. Balance celebration and sensitivity: It was vital that the NFL strike a balance between the celebration of the draft and the first live sports event in weeks with the seriousness of the current health crisis. As part of the event, the NFL hosted a ‘Draft-A-Thon’ fundraising campaign, attracting 7 million viewers and raising nearly $6.7 million for organizations providing relief to those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL recognized an opportunity to use its platform for good and give back, something all brands can and should do during a crisis. As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said: “The theme of hope is always prevalent in the NFL, especially with regard to the Draft. In 2020, that's especially true, as we help honor healthcare workers, first responders, and others on the front lines of the battle with COVID-19 while giving our fans something to cheer about as we celebrate the next generation of NFL stars.

It’s no doubt the NFL draft was a success, proving brands can achieve their goals and engage key audiences during this unique time. If you’re looking for guidance on how to pivot your brand activations as we continue to navigate through COVID-19, please contact me at kbrown@linhartpr.com.