Royal Wedding vs. the NFL Draft

Can Kate Run the Wildcat?

Despite the NFL lockout—or the No-Longer-Legally-a-Lockout, or the No-Lockout-but-No-Workout, depending on what transpires in court—the NFL draft is going on as planned this week.

This year, however, the rookies in ill-advised suits hugging National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell will likely be overshadowed by cathedral bells, carriages, and proper British ladies in ill-advised hats (most definitely not hugging). Two billion people worldwide are expected to tune in to the Friday, Apr. 29, nuptials of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Based on last year's Nielsen ratings, about 19 million people are expected to tune in to Thursday's night's prime-time NFL draft first-round broadcast on ESPN and the NFL Network, with half as many again tuning in on Friday night and Saturday.

In the battle for page views, newsstand sales, and microphones, the hype machine otherwise known as the NFL is getting beaten at its own game. So what's an embattled sports league to do? Leave it to The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay to propose a solution. On Apr. 25 he tweeted, "Can't the Royal Wedding and NFL Draft be combined into one big, blowy TV spectacle of over-baked nonsense?"

'Cause Cam Newton ain't got nuthin' on the Queen.

£80 Million Royal Wedding vs. the Draft: The Bottom Line

Alas, Charles Barkley, the Sports Person We'd Most Like to Observe at the Royal Wedding, estimated to cost £80 million (about $133 million), didn't get an invite. But David Beckham will be there, as will Australian swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Ian Thorpe, Football Assn. director Sir Trevor Brooking, and Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas. Otherwise, where sports are concerned, the royal wedding and the NFL draft should best be viewed comparatively.

Take the hunt for collectibles. Researchers have predicted that the British people will shell out a collective £163 million (about $270 million) on royal wedding souvenirs, including tea towels, paper dolls, and monogrammed plates.

The NFL has 2011 commemorative draft hats for each team for $24.99 and T-shirts for $19.99.

Security is a huge concern at the wedding—to fend off potential threats, the 15-minute carriage ride by the newlyweds from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace will require a staff of 5,000 police and hundreds more undercover security officials in an operation costing British taxpayers a minimum of $30 million, according to Canada's The Globe and Mail.

Radio City Music Hall security amounts to an extra handful of New York police officers, paid for by the NFL, and perhaps a bouncer or two guarding the players' green room.

Betting is where these two televised mega-events really converge. British bookmakers say they could see more than $1.6 million worth of royal wedding wagers, but that's chump change compared with what's normally bet on sports.

Wagering shop William Hill (WMH:LN) is offering bets on whether Middleton will get a kiss on the cheek or on the lips when the couple appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony, the color of the Queen's hat, the sex of the couple's first child, and the main course at the wedding reception.

The average royal bets tend to be from £2 to £6; in contrast, the average soccer bet is about £14.

Since the royal wedding is not as big an event for U.S. players, offshore betting concerns like Bodog and Bookmaker, servicing mainly U.S. customers, are focusing more on the NFL draft. Bodog is featuring nearly 40 different NFL draft-related bets, while Sportsbook.com currently has more than 20. Fans can bet on whether Auburn quarterback Cam Newton will be picked No. 1, or whether a lineman will go first. At Bodog, players can bet on the total number of players drafted from a specific NCAA conference, or pit the Southeastern Conference vs. the Big 12 or Big 10.

Regardless of the specific NFL draft bets they offer, all the books are pretty much in agreement: With Carolina picking first and in dire need of a quarterback, Newton is a pretty safe bet for the No. 1 overall pick.

Mega-Events = Appointment Viewing

Most of us didn't get a royal wedding invitation. And unless you're a cousin of Nick Fairley's, or a New York Jets fan, you probably won't be at Radio City Music Hall this weekend. Enter your trusty big-screen TV.

Ramping up its coverage, the NFL Network has assigned 40 staff members to cover the draft, with the network's main set featuring its in-season A-team of Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin, Steve Mariucci, and Mike Maycock. One of the competitive advantages that the NFL's in-house network has over ESPN and online sources is embedded reporters at 10 NFL team facilities across the U.S., as well as access to "the draft rooms of three of the first five selections and six of the top 10 picks," according to SI.com.

ESPN, in contrast, has significantly reduced the number of on-camera talent who are working the first two days of the NFL draft. Anchors Chris Berman and Jon Gruden and draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. will be on the main set for ESPN's coverage Apr. 28-29, with other hosts and analysts filling in throughout the weekend.

Besides the ongoing NFL labor saga, story lines surrounding the draft this year are particularly rich. The issue of free agency now takes center stage, and with the number of NFL prospects confirmed to attend the draft this week at an all-time high of 25, the athletes' back stories will be abundant for the ESPN and NFL Network reporters stationed in the green room.

Heisman Trophy winner Newton is widely projected as the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's first round, and as Michael Hiestand of USA Today aptly puts it, Newton "is like a talking point sent from the sports gods … likely the most famous draftee ever."

Besides the latest outcomes from this week's court dates and their impact on the NFL's work stoppage, a proposed rookie compensation system will likely be the hottest sports business topic at the draft. The NFL's latest proposal would move about $300 million a year from first-round draft picks' contracts to active player and veteran benefits. The current offer on the table would free more than $1.2 billion by 2016 but would not include a rookie wage scale and would still allow for individual contract negotiations, a factor of high importance to higher-compensated first-round picks.

Marketers Activate Around the NFL Draft—and Closely Gauge the Rookies

Is there a correlation between the top NFL draft pick and endorsement potential?

Those players passed over for the draft's coveted top spot shouldn't be too disappointed. A look at the Nielsen/E-Poll N-Scores of the No. 1 draft picks from the past decade—as well as a review of the top 10 N-Scores of current NFL players—found that draft position rarely translates into long-term marketability. The N-Score evaluates name, image awareness, appeal, and attributes such as sincerity, approachability, experience, and influence to determine a player's endorsement potential.

While first-round picks like 1998's top choice, Peyton Manning, and 2004's top pick, Eli Manning, rank among the most marketable players, they are the exceptions to the rule. Eight of the top picks from the past decade have an N-Score less than 20, while others receive no recognition when it comes to their brand. Meanwhile, Tom Brady, one of the most marketable players with an N-Score of 131, was a sixth-round draft pick for the New England Patriots.

Five Most Marketable Players 2011

Here's our Five Most Marketable Players coming out of this year's NFL draft, based on deals just signed:

5. Jake Locker, QB, Washington: part of Gatorade online promo

4. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Under Armour (UA)

3. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: part of Gatorade online promo

2. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: Under Armour (largest deal ever for incoming rookie)

1. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: EA Sports (ERTS), Subway

Teams and sponsors are also activating around the NFL draft. The Philadelphia Eagles on Apr. 18 unveiled a draft-specific app, which the team believes is the first of its kind. The free app, available for the iPhone and Android platforms, will provide alerts of Eagles draft picks, a social media function, a shopping link, and a video feed of PhiladelphiaEagles.com.

On Apr. 1, Anheuser-Busch (BUD) kicked off its six-year sponsorship of the NFL with a contest linked to the draft. According to Advertising Age, A-B's "Best Round Ever" promotion will give a $10 million prize to a fan "who can perfectly pick players selected in the first round" of the draft. Bud Light is also "seeking to drive consumers to its Facebook page with a sweepstakes in which fans can win a trip for two to the draft," and will also sell "a commemorative NFL Draft-branded Bud Light aluminum bottle at bars."

Finally, Men's Wearhouse (MW) has signed on as title sponsor for The Experts Network's online NFL draft preview show. The Men's Wearhouse NFL Draft Preview Show will stream on TheBigLead.com and feature NFL analysts Cris Collinsworth, Boomer Esiason, Howie Long, and Phil Simms. Men's Wearhouse will also be integrated into editorial, including a branded "Ask the Experts" interactive feature that engages fans. (Guess you could say the company is well-suited to the job.)

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