Sports films are among the industry's most inspirational movies -- the emotion tied to competition has an innate ability to reach audiences. Draft Day looks to amp up those feelings to a new level as the story plays out against arguably the most stressful day across the National Football League: the NFL draft. Made with the cooperation of the NFL, the question then becomes can Summit (a subsidiary of Lionsgate (NYSE:LGF-A) cash in on the hype?
NFL fans love the actual draft ... to the point the league has now absurdly expanded it to four days. Executives and true blue fans live and die by the decisions made during that timeframe. The event even has die-hards who want to be present from the number one pick all the way to Mr. Irrelevant (the nickname given to the final selection).
Simply put, this is big business for the league and the promotional opportunities that come from it are huge (which is why it would be a mistake to move it from New York City as rumored, but that's another story).
It shouldn't be a surprise that draft day is so popular -- just look at the ratings for the game's themselves. CBS (NYSE: CBS), NBC, Fox and ESPN pay a king's ransom for the rights to air the weekly gridiron battles and CBS is even going to rearrange its successful Thursday night lineup in the fall to accommodate a primetime game (for a prime price as well). With the NFL at the height of its popularity the areas of expansion are endless. Enter Draft Day.
The film centers on Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manger of the Cleveland Browns, who finds himself under intense pressure to make a splash at the draft. Given the state of the real-life Browns, it's not hard to make the connection here. Incidentally in a side note, it's been reported the film originally focused on the Buffalo Bills (an equally unsuccessful team), but Cleveland had better tax credits, so producers made a trade.
Weaver is played by Kevin Costner who is in a class all his own when it comes to sports movies. You'd be hard pressed to find better baseball movies than Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, even the under-appreciated For the Love of the Game is a solid film. Like Game, Costner is a under-appreciated asset. He might not have the same drawing power he once did, but international audiences love him and he carries with him a certain demo here in the States as well.
It also doesn't hurt that combined those three films have made $160 million at the box office, which may not seem like a lot, but two of those movies came out in the late '80s where movies didn't regularly top $100 million. For that time, those are solid numbers and that's not counting home video sales, cable airing deals, and the impact the films have had on pop culture in general.
Draft Day takes audiences through all the ups and downs of what Weaver goes through over the course of the draft. From the trailer you can see Costner's trademark charm and wit oozing from his character and there's a certain bankability to that familiarity. You can legitimately pull for the guy to succeed even if his problems are trivial in the grand scheme of life. That's the beauty of these movies; audiences can escape their ordinary lives for two hours.
Impact on business
You could also argue that escape is the reason for the popularity of the NFL games themselves. They are breaks from reality where fans can vicariously live through their favorite players. It's that level of connection that makes the NFL such a lucrative business.
As many critics have already pointed out the appeal of aligning themselves with Summit/Lionsgate on a project like this is simple -- it's a promotional tool that both sides believe will help the other. This is meant to show the NFL in a favorable light and not touch on the league's hot button issues including player safety/concussions, the questionable conduct of certain athletes, and the growing debate over exploiting college players for profit.
In exchange for focusing on the positives, the film was allowed unprecedented access to shoot a number of scenes at last year's NFL draft and numerous NFL players, officials, and personalities have cameos. I'm not trying to take away anything from Draft Day by mentioning that, in fact I'm pulling for it to surprise people at the box office this weekend. It just needs to be mentioned that there is a wider spotlight outside of the film's bubble that could cause bumps in the road for the brand down the line.
For now projections have the movie taking in between $11 million and $13 million during the weekend. Given the production budget can't be that high, those are again solid numbers. And remember the film is targeting just the male demographic so executives know the cross-over appeal is low.
Summit/Lionsgate also carefully picks its spots and Draft Day comes at a good time for the studio. It's debuting a few weeks after the success of new franchise Divergent and before the summer season where the studio will have new installments of Step Up and The Expendables ready to go.
It's also about a month or so until the actual 2014 NFL draft and executives know football fans are looking for anything to make the time go by until the new season activities begin. Draft Day should hit that mark.