Blazing Brand Exposure: The NFL Combine
The NFL Combine is an annual one-week event where the top 350 (or so) NFL Draft prospects of that given year make their way to Indianapolis to perform several physical and mental tests in front of NFL personnel and representatives from each of the 32 NFL teams (and several national television cameras). While the week is really meant to be focused around the athletes showcasing their talents, every year we see more and more focus on product and apparel companies trying to showcase their brands. For this one week, Indianapolis is not only swarmed with coaches, scouts, executives, agents, and athletes, but also by representatives from all types of apparel, equipment, nutrition, hydration, performance, and product companies all trying to make their presence known to boost brand exposure.
The athletes are exposed to companies as small as start-ups and as big as big-time apparel companies like Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour. This trio really takes over the week, as each of them hosts their own “suite” where the players can shoot some pool, grab a smoothie, get a fresh haircut (literally), and of course, walk out with some shiny new cleats. These apparel companies are looking to not only build long term relationships with the stars of tomorrow, but also, they know that there will be millions of eyes tuning in to see the players perform. As a result, if several players perform well while wearing a specific brand, this could be very advantageous to increasing the company’s sales.
At this year’s Combine, one company took boosting their exposure to a new level. In 2008, running back Chris Johnson set an NFL Combine record in the event’s most infamous drill, the 40-yard dash. Johnson ran the 40 yards in a blazing 4.24 seconds, a record that still stood heading into this year’s Combine. Adidas decided to build some buzz around this year’s 40-yard dash. They created a contest offering a private island (yes, a private island) to any player who broke Johnson’s 40-yard dash record. People were talking, tweeting, and posting about this contest, and watching the Combine with an uncertain anticipation: Could anyone run faster than Johnson? Would they actually give an island away? Does Adidas have islands just sitting around?!
John Ross, wide receiver out of the University of Washington, stepped up to the line and took off, faster than anyone had ever done before. Ross broke Johnson’s 8 year record, recording a blistering time of 4.22 seconds in his 40-yard dash.
Unfortunately, John Ross was not wearing Adidas cleats when he ran. He was wearing Nike. The deal Adidas created only applied to players who were actually wearing the Adidas cleats when they ran the 40-yard dash. This was a great move by Adidas, in theory, assuming more players would choose to run in Adidas cleats because of the contest, and thus increasing brand exposure. They were right, many players did wear Adidas cleats, but the one who ran the fastest was wearing their top competitor.
So, while John Ross now owns the NFL Combine 40-yard dash record, he does NOT own a private island (and we remain with no answer as to whether or not Adidas does either).
Ironically, Nike ends up with the last laugh. While the buzz all week was surrounding the “Adidas island offer”, which was great brand exposure, people will now remember that when John Ross set the 40-yard dash record, he did so wearing a pair of Nikes.