The NFL is setting up shop in midtown Manhattan - literally.
Eight blocks from Radio City Music Hall, where the draft will be held April 22-28, the league is establishing a temporary facility with a theme: NFL Shop at Draft. It's the first such endeavor, a chance to not only unveil products from the league's new partners, including Nike, New Era and Under Armour, but to whet fans' appetite for the NFL's biggest event that doesn't actually involve football.
The draft has become an industry unto itself. Analysts, personal trainers and broadcasters make a living solely from the buildup, which actually begins with the kickoff of the college season in late summer, and ends with the selections. Radio City is packed with die-hards, dressed in their team colors, perhaps even painted thusly. Every early pick is cheered or jeered - often both.
That fervor helped spark the NFL's decision to open up shop across from New York's landmark Bryant Park, beginning on April 2. The official presentation of Nike's new jerseys for all 32 teams and New Era's headgear will come at what the league is calling a "huge NFL energy space" where Commissioner Roger Goodell is planning to man one of the cash registers on opening day.
"We're looking at marketing opportunies anytime we have an event," said Leo Kane, the league's senior vice president of consumer products. "We will have a kickoff event in the New York metropolitan area with the Giants having won the Super Bowl. We look at our international season focused in London and at Wembley. We moved into (merchandising at) the Super Bowl and were thrilled with what we were able to do in Indianapolis. Now we are showing what we can do before and at the draft. We want to have a year-round footprint."
Certainly the NFL has done that on the news side with one of the busiest headline-grabbing offseasons. Much of that was concencerned bounties and salary cap reductions.
But the fans' interest displayed emphatically the fervor they carry for pro football. So, of course, does spending their money on merchandise.
In many cases, that involves online purchases. But for one month, New Yorkers and visitors to the Big Apple - including those who come in for the draft - will have a place to set foot in and pick out apparel and the like.
"I've been 19 years at the NFL, and I don't think there's been a year we have not talked about (building) a store," Kane said. "We're not sure it makes sense. We did a pop-up in New Orleans when the season kickoff was there the year the Saints won the Super Bowl and it was dedicated to products for women and phenomenally successful.
"Anytime you do a pop-up store, you are testing. One of the things we like is testing in New York. There's a Super Bowl here in 22 months and we will get a good indication if makes sense along these lines for Super Bowl 48. If we are successful in doing this for the draft this year and the draft next year and then Super Bowl 48, will it make sense? We don't know that yet."
What the NFL does know is that Nike will unveil its jerseys for the 32 teams and New Era will present caps specifically for the draft that are sure to get noticed.
Those caps will be given not only to the Andrew Lucks of the world but all the other draftees at the music hall.
"It's a city-based theme," New Era President Pete Augustine said. "All these guys coming through the draft are getting a new hometown.
"What we like for the draft this year is we have a level of fashion that should be appealing to die-hard fans and one allowing the look and feel of the logo on the front. We have a variety of products that have the same look and feel beyond what the drafted athlete can wear."
New Era, Nike and Under Armour are among seven marketing partners that are replacing Reebok, whose 10-year deal with the league concludes at the end of March. The other companies are Gill, VF, Outerstuff and '47 Brand.
Kane said it was time for a change.
"Reebok was a great partner for 10 years, the right partner 10 years ago, and we're very proud of some of the things we have done with them," he said. "We now have a more flexible model for our fans. It is difficult to be the best jersey guy and headwear guy, to provide (merchandise or equipment) for the field and the NFL combine. The business is still segmented, but we looked to put world-class leaders in each category. I think it will bring more innovation."