How Fanatics Leveraged Endorsement Marketing During the NFL Draft


The NFL Draft has become an annual opportunity for brands and agencies to flex their marketing muscle. The three day selection process has turned from a quiet existence to a mega-production featuring hours of live panel discussion, behind-the-scenes coverage, and analysis from the top talent at ESPN and NFL Network. This year, day one of the Draft drew over seven million total views and had a 4.5 rating among adults 18-49 — the third-highest performing day since the Draft’s initial broadcast on ESPN in 1980.

The Draft’s marketing influence doesn’t stop at the television screen anymore. More than ever, fans are taking to Twitter, Facebook, and various other digital channels to celebrate, grieve, and analyze each selection. As these passionate fans flock to social media, marketers are placing a deserved emphasis on reaching and engaging this massive audience with both real-time and athlete endorsement marketing tactics.

To reach and impress upon these fans, who better for marketers to leverage than the real stars of the Draft — the players who are being selected. The players who are drafted near the top, in general, have strong social followings consisting of fans of their college and sport, as well as a rush of fans from their new team. Earning an endorsement from an athlete, however, can be easier said than done. Brands who want the endorsement marketing message in real-time coordination with an event like the Draft have even more barriers to overcome. There are agents and managers to wade through. Previous deals may limit which brands or products the player can endorse, and negotiations can go on for weeks. Once a deal is secured, the athlete is now relied upon to copy and paste an email from the marketer before finally pressing send. All of this is slated to occur immediately upon being drafted — one of the biggest moments of the athlete and their family’s life. The convoluted process and excitement of the moment tend to result in significantly delayed or even forgotten execution.

JBL Audio avoided these posting pains by running an NBA Draft campaign through the NBA Twitter account. The audio brand had several top draft picks pose for a photo wearing the brand’s headphones just after being drafted. The picture was then tweeted by the NBA and later retweeted by the player to their personal audience. These messages were effective in reaching the NBA account’s massive audience. However, the messages may have lacked the authentic personal endorsement of a message coming directly from the athlete’s account.

This is where opendorse comes in. We provide the most effective way to facilitate athlete endorsement marketing campaigns on social media. From identifying the most authentic athletes for a specific brand or campaign, to pitching, negotiating, and executing the deal. For Fanatics’ 2015 NFL Draft campaign, opendorse provided guaranteed activation and campaign measurement.


For the 2015 NFL Draft, Fanatics — the leading online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise — had a plan. The online retailer had prepared to have rookie jerseys and Draft-day hats available for online purchase just moments after each Draft selection. Fanatics simply needed to communicate its offer with a passionate target audience: NFL fans.

Fanatics wanted to use the power of athlete endorsement marketing from some of the most popular to-be rookies to build relationships with target customers during the 2015 NFL Draft. The brand wanted to capitalize on the athletes’ window of increased influence during the Draft to connect with the NFL’s passionate fans.  The challenge was to ensure timely, accurate athlete activations throughout the event, with the ability to measure click-through rates and bottom-line revenue of the endorsement marketing messages. 



The strategy was simple: capitalize on the influence of recently drafted rookies to drive awareness, fan engagement, website traffic, and ultimately, jersey sales.

The company knew that from conception to activation, the endorsement marketing process can be fraught with potential issues. The archaic, but oft-used, practice of using email to copy and paste social post content was error-prone. Expecting the athlete to post during a time that they should be celebrating meant the endorsement messages were likely to be delayed and even inaccurate. The Fanatics team knew they needed a better solution. They found the power of opendorse.


Fanatics started ahead of the game. They had negotiate rates and procured involvement with six Draft-eligible rookies. Three of the six athletes elected to join opendorse and leverage the automated activation feature, generating thousands of impressions, link clicks, and positive engagements during the NFL Draft. Each endorsement message was backed by accurate measurement, providing fanatics with comprehensive reporting. 

Athletes Activated:
First Round | Melvin Gordon | San Diego Chargers
Second Round | Devin Smith | New York Jets
Fourth Round | Bryce Petty | New York Jets


Activations: 3 NFL Draft selections activated
Impressions: 376 thousand impressions
Engagements: 19 thousand engagements
Link Clicks: 13.5 thousand link clicks


With help from the power of opendorse and its automated activation capability, Fanatics was able to find success with endorsement marketing messages from three of the NFL Draft’s most popular prospects. Was an endorsement marketing campaign of this caliber possible without opendorse? Sure. We just made it faster, easier, and more transparent for all involved.

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