Each April, the National Football League holds the spring Draft, an annual event during which it recruits new players (mainly from colleges) to join its teams. In the past, this selection process was an “institutional event,” where football fans knew the drill and creating buzz around the event was not as necessary. In the age of Twitter, Facebook and mobile technology, however, the NFL is changing up its game. This year, the League is aggressively using social media to promote the two-day Draft, which takes place April 25-26. NFL Online general manager Laura Goldberg spoke with Brandweek about the shift online, how it's able to better engage fans, and what the NFL is doing differently with this year's Draft. Excerpts from her conversation are below:
Brandweek: The NFL is leveraging social media—perhaps more so than ever—in its 74th Draft. Why so?
Laura Goldberg: I would call it fan engagement. The fans are incredibly engaged in the Draft and all things NFL. Frankly, they want more and more information. They want to know immediately which [team] is picking which player—whether they are sitting in front of their TV on a Saturday afternoon or taking their kids to the park or need to go to a baseball game, they want to be there. The fans are so passionate about the NFL and about their teams and what’s going on that they want to be able to talk about it. They want to be able to interact with personnel and players and that conversation is happening all around the Web, and a lot of that also happens [outside of] NFL.com, but the idea of engaging with social media is to broaden that conversation.
BW: How did NFL get the word out about the Draft in previous years?
LG: In the past, the Draft is an institutional event, if you will. In terms of NFL.com, we do a lot of promotions on the site. We have keyword searches, so if you are going to look for information about the Draft, you will see links through and back to NFL.com. We don’t do a ton of external marketing, but people know it’s coming, and so, we just remind people to check back for every pick following the event.
BW: What are you doing that’s new as far as promoting the Draft this year?
LG: We launched a new feature that we think is very cool, called the Fan War Room. We set up a way for fans to comment on their team’s Draft picks. Right now, they are commenting on whom they should pick. After the Draft gets going, they will talk about the picks. We launched this two weeks ago, and we have over 100,000 comments already. People are talking back and forth in the context of their teams, in terms of who they should pick or what offensive or defensive lineup they should go with. It’s been an amazing way to get more fans engaged and really make this a much more social event, if you will, both before, during and after Draft.
The other thing is, we have a Twitter stream going throughout the event so we will Twitter from inside Radio City Music Hall [on both days], so, what’s going on, what the scene is inside of the Draft, what some of the comments are that we’re hearing, who’s there, what the exciting things are. And then we have a Facebook widget essentially where you can log onto our Facebook page right now and it has news and information and videos and on the day of the Draft, it will put each pick as it happens so you can follow it from your Facebook page as well.
The other thing we’re doing is in mobile. You can watch the Draft live thru NFL Mobile Live on Sprint phones. You can follow the Draft via any browser on our web site, you can see every pick as it happens and also participate in these events. So it’s really about letting fans access the Draft, whether it be the inside of what’s going on there and each pick and analysis as it happens and really providing that insider’s access and letting all of our fans to engage with the event.
And after the Draft, and after every round, you can grade your team. Much like the [sports] experts do, you can give them an A, B, C, D, E or F on whether you liked the pick or not.
BW: What are you hoping to achieve with this effort? How are you measuring ROI?
LG: It’s to get more people coming to our site more often and to get those people more engaged and by more engaged, it’s more page views, more videos and to have them spend more time on our site.
BW: What else did you do that’s different? And is this effort indicative of a larger social media push at the NFL?
LG: We released the [Draft] schedule last Tuesday and we put it up on an interactive application. It’s about, “How can we engage fans in an exciting and interesting way to see who their team is playing next year?” We put up a very cool interactive schedule that showed the time, the networks and the home and away games. We’re doing those things on the site and off site… You will continue to see us in the future having a bigger presence on the social media scene. We had a Twitter stream at the Super Bowl and we will continue to talk to fans [via] those mediums as well.