NFL Enhances ‘War Rooms’ for Fans as Draft Goes Primetime

NFL.com has added cool quirks to the interactive “war rooms” it launched last year in hopes that viewers become engaged during tonight’s telecast of the first round of the league’s player draft, which runs through the weekend. The main thrust to the effort is to try to maximize eyeballs for online brand sponsors like Verizon and Lexus, as football fans interface between their television sets and the Internet.

The virtual “war rooms” – based on the traditional nickname for NFL teams’ draft strategy headquarters – feature a colorful U.S. map adorned with franchise logos. When viewers click one of the logos, the page reflects the team selected in a variety of fashions. Most interestingly, viewers can select their current mood about how well their team will perform in drafting the best eligible players.

A sliding bar allows users to allocate with their cursor how they are feeling about their favorite team’s prospects. Let’s call it a mood gauge. Left to right, the bar is colored dark blue to purple to red, as viewers can express whether they are Bummed (dark blue), Worried (light purple), Indifferent (purple), Hopeful (light red), or Excited (red). How they express their mood is tallied with other such votes and collectively displayed to show how each team is doing with its fan base.

Below the fold, the top five “Happiest War Rooms” and bottom five “Unhappiest War Rooms” are listed for the NFL’s 32 teams. Below the mood gauge appears user comments for a particular team. On Monday, NFL.com had already broken last year’s mark for the number of comments with more than 283,000. Sixty-thousand more comments have rolled in since then, and it has topped 343,000.

“I would say the commenting drives a couple of things on the site,” said Laura Goldberg, VP and GM of NFL Online. “One, it absolutely drives engagement…It increases the time on site and increases page views. And more-engaged users are absolutely better for advertising. They see more advertising. It registers with them clearly, where we have deep sponsor integration.”

Verizon Wireless, which signed on as the league’s official mobile provider six weeks ago, is the lead sponsor for the NFL Draft when it comes to online and TV. Its logo is seen in the war rooms’ upper right-hand corner as well as below the fold in a sizable display unit.

“This will be our first implementation with Verizon,” Goldberg said. “The mobile phone is a great way to track the draft – particularly on Saturday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. And we hope the draft is a great kick-off event for this partnership and…people download the NFL mobile application on Verizon.”

nflagain.jpg Lexus appears in a small-but-clickable box in the upper left-hand corner as the sponsor for draft tracker bar, which will show the players that teams are selecting. Though, Verizon and Lexus are not the only brands gaining spotlight from the NFL this week.

Marriott will be sponsoring live streaming of the draft at NFL.com. M&M’s is sponsoring a schedule-release interactive app that was released on Tuesday. FedEx will be sponsoring draft grades and fan rankings – essentially real-time polls – at NFL.com. And General Motors will be sponsoring a “Predict the Pick” contest on NFL Web properties where the winner will get a free trip to the league’s Pro Bowl in Hawaii in 2011.

Meanwhile, the war rooms have been getting a heavy in-house push from the NFL’s TV and Internet properties, and have been augmented by SEM keyword buys and mentions in the league’s e-newsletter. Goldberg said she expects the mood gauge and individual teams’ comments section to be buzzing this evening when the four-day draft kicks off.

She credited the enhancements to Austin, TX-based Demand Media, which provided its interactive Pluck platform for the war rooms as well as individual fan pages available on NFL.com. “It’s really about engagement measured by visits per unique users as well as time spent on site – so they can monetize directly via advertising and sponsorships,” said Steve Semelsberger, SVP for Demand Media Business Solutions Group.

You can follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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