NHL Draft Night: The long and the short of it

Jack 39 Blog

June 30th, 2023 By Patrick Heffernan

NHL Draft Night This is a view from the back of a crowded arena that is packed full of people before an empty stage with a podium. Vibrant orange lights and smoke fill the room in anticipation for the next draft pick to be announced. On top of the graphic reads the title, "Draft Night: The Long and the Short of It" with the white Jack 39 logo in the upper left corner of the image. When it comes to draft night across the major US sports, time matters. No, not being “on the clock,” but the time between being drafted and making an impact in the league. The biggest drafts where fan interest runs hottest have the shortest horizon between “you’ve been selected” and “you’re in the starting rotation”.

In the NFL, high draft picks are expected to make an immediate impact. In the NBA “lottery picks” can be transformational to the team’s ability to compete for a championship, as the incredible hype around Victor Wembanyama has reinforced. In the first 48 hours after being selected by the San Antonio spurs, the team saw a 3,000% increase in YOY online traffic and sales.

On Wednesday, another generational talent in Conor Bedard was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks. Another hot talent, Adam Fantilli, to the surprise of many, went to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even though the Bedard hype had instant impact on Chicago (selling more than 500 season tickets in less than 90 minutes), other picks likely won’t be felt at the NHL level when the puck drops in October.  Most first round NHL picks see limited action in their first year if they see any NHL level playing time at all. Surprisingly, half of NHL draftees across the 7 rounds never play an NHL game.

In a few weeks, the MLB draft will take place and will largely go unnoticed compared to the other pro drafts as the top draftees won’t see action at the MLB level for years. The draft is arguably of more immediate interest to fans of minor league ball than the big-league club.

For sponsors, the long and short of it matters too, as impact horizon correlates with sponsorship cost. The more immediate the impact the higher the cost, as time affects the risk-reward calculation between potential realized and “what happened to?”. This is true for both talent deals and sponsorships with teams. For talent deals, brands can mitigate some of that risk by identifying talent early in their careers. The evolution of NIL deals at the amateur level has fundamentally changed the way marketers can utilize athletes to influence their brand. If you get in early, there are efficiencies to be realized and rich story-telling opportunities that fortify the authenticity of the partnership.

Some draft picks may not always be the best picks in the long run, but brands can use this opportunity to form new connections with fans. That’s why it’s critical to work with a partner that help your brand determine if playing it short or long best fits your objectives, calibrating the risk-reward algebra by the nuances of each league.