How Brand Activations Helped Turn the 2018 NFL Draft into an Event


There is always a great deal of excitement around the NFL draft. This year, the event was held in the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, where a 20,000-seat theater was specifically built for the occasion. It’s the first time a draft has taken place inside an NFL stadium.

But some of the best action still remained outside where sponsors and fans gathered for the free NFL Draft Experience that was spread across 900,000 square feet of repurposed parking lots. On the first day alone, the NFL Draft Experience broke the record for attendance with 100,000 people.

To get the most from the NFL Draft Experience, it was suggested that attendees download the Fan Mobile Pass. This app included a unique QR code that provided a “Single Sign On” to register for all the activities taking place. With the app, fans attending the NFL Draft Experience received photos and videos taken at the event, updated information and maps, and opportunities to win prizes and giveaways. The app also gave fans the chance to receive standby tickets into the NFL Draft Theater as seating became available.

“Everybody loves the Super Bowl, but that’s an expensive event,” said Matt Wilson, Director of Sports for the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You don’t buy a $50 ticket and go to the Super Bowl. It takes a lot of money. The draft is for people to come out with their families, with their buddies, whoever, and enjoy the largest free event that the NFL puts on.”

In 2017, the draft was held in Philadelphia at a largely outdoor venue, and fans flooded the streets. An example of how successful this event was, Anheuser-Busch InBev sold more beer during the first day than it did during the entire 2016 draft event in Chicago. Chicago! Where drinking beer is, sort of, what they do.


Photo Credit: Curbed Philadelphia

TV coverage and social media was ablaze with the Philadelphia scene. About 17 percent of those fans were from out of town who stayed overnight, boosting the demand for local hotels, restaurants, and entertainment.

“The crowd shots of a sea of people was something that was very exciting to the NFL,” said Wilson, “and so other cities were like, ‘We can do that.’”

But, in order to attract a crowd, you have to give them something they want. This year, 27 NFL corporate sponsors showcased goods and services to attendees at and around the AT&T Stadium.

Here are some of the show stopping activations from this year’s NFL draft.

Anheuser-Busch InBev

The beverage giant went appropriately Texas-sized big.

“As a brand, we don’t just want to advertise to people. We want to give them experiences and content that they want to share with their friends,” said Andy Goeler, VP of Marketing for Bud Light. “Very few occasions can replicate the volume of highly engaged, enthusiastic consumers who are eager to interact with us and enjoy their day with a Bud Light in hand.”

The activation included a 50-foot, multi-level Build-a-Bar located immediately outside of the stadium that served cold beer and live-streamed the NFL Draft. Next door, the Bud Light food truck complemented the drinks by serving Texas barbecue.

There was also an enormous vending machine, dubbed the Vend Zone, where pairs took turns throwing balls at letters and numbers to win prizes. The brand’s medieval “Bud Knight” character, from its Dilly Dilly campaign, walked around the stadium (and the city, as well) stopping to take pictures with fans.

There was also a fun photo op of a wall of Bud Light cans within a large cutout of the state of Texas, backlit with blue lighting. ESPN’s Trey Wingo even spent some time there to take photos with fans.

Photo Credit: Event Marketer

Pizza Hut

This is the first year of Pizza Hut’s multi-year agreement with the NFL. To celebrate the occasion, the brand fed the volunteers, draftees, and media at the 2018 draft.

It also had an activation that tied into its campaign where Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, known for his elaborate touchdown dances, encouraged fans to perform a “doorbell dance,” (i.e., the dance they do when the pizza delivery person rings the doorbell). At the activation, fans were encouraged to perform a “doorbell dance” as rookies were drafted.

The brand also announced that it would give the 78th pick of the draft unlimited pizza for a year and the ability to host a giant pizza party in his new hometown. The reasoning for the 78th pick is that it is the “Pi Pick” (the 3rd round’s 14th pick, i.e., 3.14). The lucky recipient was Malik Jefferson, a linebacker who was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals.


Before the draft, Hyundai kicked off its promotion “Rolling with the Rookies,” which featured four potential early round picks: Josh Allen (who was drafted 7th by the Buffalo Bills), Minkah Fitzpatrick (11th, Miami Dolphins), Connor Williams (50th, Dallas Cowboys), and Derrius Guice (59th, Washington Redskins)

“The journey these athletes took to get to this point is what makes the NFL Draft one of the most compelling days in sports,” said Paul Imhoff, Director of Marketing Communications for Hyundai Motor America. “Our objective as an NFL sponsor is to engage with fans, create compelling content and show how passion can make things possible. We were honored to tell these amazing stories and will be rooting for them on Draft day.”

You may want to have a couple of Kleenex nearby when you watch Williams’ spot.


Photo Credit: Hyundai

For Hyundai’s activation, these players worked with cleat designer Marcus “SolesbySir” Rivero to design a wrap for Hyundai’s new Kona, to tell the player’s story visually on the vehicle. This design was also used to create a custom pair of cleats. The activation also showcased footage from each player’s life and provided interactive fan engagement opportunities. Players were also chauffeured in Hyundai Genesis cars to the red carpet.

There were other fun endorsements, as well. For example, to promote “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” the San Francisco 49ers let R2-D2, Chewbacca, and a couple of Stormtroopers announced their pick of Kentavius Smith out of North Carolina State.

As more and more fans crave new experiences, brand activations are only going to get bigger. To discover how your brand can keep pace, give one of our helpful Event Architecture experts a call at 972-323-9433.