First-Round Prospects’ Draft Exposure Worth $50 Million, And Maybe More, To College Programs

by David Ching of Forbes
Colleges would have to spend millions of advertising dollars to match the value they get from having a prospect in the conversation to become an NFL first-round draft pick.

And when it’s a marquee quarterback with an interesting story – like Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, a two-time walk-on who won the 2017 Heisman Trophy and became the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s first round – the figure soars well into the tens of millions.

“I’m going to say it is probably easily approaching $50 million in exposure value, and probably much higher than that,” said Eric Wright, executive director of research at Joyce Julius & Associates, “depending on if there’s any kind of a twist to a story that makes it more newsworthy or they are drafted higher than expected. Anything that would cause someone to maybe report on it maybe a little more than just ‘they were picked 14th, and away we go.’”

A variety of factors can affect the sum, said Wright, whose company measures the value colleges gain from elite draft prospects’ coverage in TV game broadcasts, TV news coverage, print media and internet news. Beyond anything that makes the player’s story unique, what is the timespan in consideration – is it the two months between the NFL Scouting Combine and the draft, or just draft night alone? – and how big is the media market where the prospect eventually lands?

Even for first-round picks from the smallest schools, the advertising equivalent of the media exposure can be astronomical.

Joyce Julius & Associates reported last year that Corey Davis’ selection with the No. 5 overall pick resulted in $15 million worth of media exposure that weekend for his college, Western Michigan. On draft night alone, ESPN and the NFL Network provided more than 10 minutes of direct attention to WMU in their coverage, with more than 220 TV programs, 7,300 local and national news articles and approximately 1,800 social media posts referencing the university over the course of the draft weekend.
That boatload of media impressions came for a wide receiver who was not exactly a national name, and who landed with a pro team – the Tennessee Titans – whose media market is nearly the smallest within the NFL’s footprint.

For players who hail from programs outside the Power Five, the theoretical value of their draft-driven media exposure is often in the same ballpark as the real revenues their college programs generate.
For instance, Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen has been one of the most polarizing prospects in this year’s draft for more than a year — even before Thursday’s controversy over insensitive tweets he posted as a high schooler — and his presence drew new attention to Cowboys games. The Mountain West football program reported revenue of just $13.1 million in the 2016-17 school year, according to U.S. Department of Education Equity in Athletics data, but Allen’s final college season produced media impressions the school never could have afforded to purchase on its own.

Wyoming commissioned a Joyce Julius & Associates study that determined the school received an advertising equivalent of approximately $46 million from media impressions in the 2017 football season. Cowboys athletic director Tom Burman also expected the value to double between the end of the season and draft night, when Allen went seventh overall to the Buffalo Bills.

“I can’t imagine in the history of the University of Wyoming any one player or situation having greater brand exposure than Josh Allen has had this past year,” Burman told The Casper Star-Tribune.
The payoff was surely not so astronomical for other first-round picks from smaller programs – players like Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport (No. 14 to New Orleans) or San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny (No. 27 to Seattle) – but any value in the eight figures is significant for their schools.

As at Wyoming, football revenue from UTSA ($10.6 million in 2016-17) and San Diego State ($13.7 million) is a fraction of what the programs that produced top picks like Mayfield, running back Saquon Barkley (Penn State), quarterback Sam Darnold (USC) or cornerback Denzel Ward (Ohio State) rake in annually. For the little guy, these impressions are a much bigger deal.

“I would use the comparison to what happens in the NCAA basketball tournament,” Wright said. “What’s the story usually? Well, it’s the small school that has a run, and everyone’s talking about that, and that’s the story. That’s what is interesting, at least until we get to the championship.

“I would say it’s similar to that in the draft because I think a small school that has a player that’s drafted in the first round like that, that is a news story, and they are going to enjoy maybe that extra mention, or two, or 1,000, because of that situation.”

Think back over previous college basketball seasons, like when Steph Curry helped the nation become aware of Davidson College or when Jimmer Fredette’s scoring prowess temporarily nudged BYU hoops into the spotlight, and Wright’s point becomes clear.

Even this year, No. 16 seed UMBC’s win over top-seeded Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament put that school on the national map, as did the memorable run by the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers and their most famous fan, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.

“Because they’re small, people are interested in that,” Wright said. “They’re not used to receiving that kind of exposure, and then to be thrown onto the national stage like that, because it is a newsworthy happening, I think it’s a real boost; it’s a real shot for them.”

Understandably, the smaller programs are typically the clients that reach out to Wright’s firm to study the value of their newfound media attention. After all, major programs are accustomed to the media spotlight, and an individual prospect’s draft status is simply not as impactful there as it might be at a school where such prospects are rare.

However, even those schools get substantial bang for their buck in a unique case like Mayfield’s.
Wright said he studied the numbers last week on Mayfield’s media hits since the combine and determined that he had accumulated nearly 25,000 mentions in that time. He looked again Thursday, and the number had risen to 44,000, inching past Allen as the most-mentioned prospect in this year’s draft.
The number nearly doubled in a week’s time, carrying significant value for both the player and his college program, although Wright also offers a reminder of caution on that point.

“Remember that they’re talking about Baker Mayfield. They may or may not also be referencing Oklahoma,” he said. “So Oklahoma’s getting a little bit less with that, but obviously they’re associated with Baker Mayfield, and in most media stories they’re going to be mentioned at least once because it’s going to be ‘Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma’ or what have you. So they’re getting at least a sizable portion, if not nearly all of that. So that’s a tremendous amount of mentions.”

Then it’s up to the individual schools to determine how best to capitalize upon being noticed.
The increased awareness is obviously a recruiting tool – for new football players, for student applications and maybe even for new faculty members. In the case of smaller programs, it also creates brand recognition that almost certainly would not have existed otherwise.

A well-conceived strategy for harnessing the increased exposure might very well have a tangible economic impact, in the form of increased revenues and donations to the university. But the numbers Wright provides are meant to help inform that strategy, not determine it.

“We can’t really assist in that part of the discussion,” Wright said. “What we can do is be a piece to that and let them know, ‘Oh, and by the way, on a national spotlight, this is the level that your brand was engaged for a few weeks,’ and in many cases they’ve not experienced it like that, or to that level.
“Again, it’s part of the story; it’s not the entire story. They have to put other things with it.”