Jared Mueller

NFL Combine: "The Walk" Players Get to Take

The NFL Combine is an interesting place for college players coming into the NFL. We know all about what happens in Lucas Oil Stadium. This is the story from inside the hotels.

There is a scene from the movie Jerry Maguire that always intrigued me. "Rod Tidwell" and his agent, "Maguire", walk the lobby before the NFL Draft. In the scene, the player and his agent mostly interact with media but Maguire notes player agents and others that will be in the Lobby as well. Here is the build up to that lobby walk:

The scene seems to be successful for Tidwell but is it realistic? 

At the NFL Combine players, their agents and, for many, their families take what they call "The Walk." A different experience than the one seen in the movie but interesting none the less.

Attending the Combine last year, I wondered what "The Walk" entailed as I heard agent after agent ask their players if they were ready to take it.

This year at the Combine, I got the chance to take "The Walk" with a player, his agent and his family. What I found was surprising as much as it was confirming. Here is an inside look into what "The Walk" was like. As a mental health professional, my analysis will be full of notes from that perspective of human interaction.

Setting The Scene

There are a number of hotels that are setup to accommodate businesses to attract players. In this particular hotel, there were vendors around the outside of the large lobby areas as well as inside semi or totally private rooms. We started with the downstairs vendors and worked out way upstairs. 

The outside vendors were setup similar to what you would think of at any kind of job fair or even Farmer's Markets. Tables with information. Displays of all kinds. Freebies everywhere. Some of the tables were setup for us to come in, while most were set so we walked around the outside of the display with the people on the inside.

(From a psychological perspective, the vendors who brought you inside the tables got far better engagement. Some were not able to do so just based on size limitations but that was a far better way if they could.)

The outside vendors were quicker, smaller experiences while the rooms were longer and more intimate.

The people working the displays and rooms generally fell into one of three categories. 1 - Girls wearing very little and/or tight clothing. 2 - Athletic, young males. 3 - Suited up, business men types over 30 years old.

Goal

At the outside tables the goal was very clear: Use something to hook them in, share as much information as possible and give information for follow up later.

The inside rooms were a little different. There was more feeling out to figure out what might catch the player, or more importantly his family's, attention. Does the initial greeting draw them in or are they looking around wanting to explore? The greeters were very good at figuring that out.

Inside, there was more of a push to get players to agree to a next meeting, plan something or get them to agree to make a purchase depending on the product.

Vendors

The vendors spanned a variety of products and services. There were nutrition/supplement people, trainers, financial planners, clothes makers and a variety of athletic gear places. The smaller, unknown (to me) vendors were in a bigger push to impress while the bigger names were more laid back in the process. 

The nutrition/supplement, trainers and financial planners tried to use their information/data to sell players while the clothiers and athletic gear folks used the clothing as a jump off point for discussing what the players wanted.

Interactions

It was very clear that every vendor had a list of players and what their assumed draft stock was. Players wear Combine gear with their position and a certain number throughout the week. Ezekiel Elliott for example had RB 8 on all of his clothing. This allowed vendors to quickly scan their list and know both the players' name as well as their "value."

I was ignored pretty quickly as my presentation made it clear that I was unimportant.

The outside vendors tended to treat each player the same no matter their stock but inside was different. While the vendors were respectful of every player, the higher valued players were given more attention. This was especially true from the third group of people, the over 30 businessmen.

At the outside tables, the players were greeted by whoever was closest to them as they came up. Others would jump into the conversation but the greeter would be the point of contact throughout unless they had to hand it over to an "expert."

The bigger vendors with their rooms were a far different experience. Each was greeted by someone at the door but after that it was clear an evaluation was going on. If the player clearly had a significant other with them, one of the younger males were more likely to engage with them while the young ladies would be friendly to the female companion but keep their distance from the player. The business men engaged with the family primarily, unless it was only the players father where the young ladies joined in.

The business men engaged with the family primarily, unless it was only the players father where the young ladies joined in.

If the player was just with his agent, the young ladies in their tight outfits were the primary contact with the guys joining in at times. The number of contacts was clearly connected to the players stock and perceived interest after a few moments.

The clothes/gear vendors tried to get product into the players' hands quickly. Not specifically the things that would be given away but a sample of the product for the player to feel and experience. While this was happening the conversation went toward asking questions about what the player liked about the product or clothes/gear in general. Details such as color preference, size, etc were gathered in very subtle ways.

For most, gathering up to date contact information, preferences and impressing the player, his family and the agents was the goal. Then they got whatever free stuff (shoes, products, etc) that the vendor was giving out. 

The clothiers had far more aggressive goals. They were looking to get measurements and agreements to purchase as quickly as possible. "You want to look good on Draft night right?" "We can make sure you look good for meeting teams, press conferences and everything else!"

An example of the "deals" that were offered the players (one of the few that even handed me anything):

Jared Mueller

For players certain to cash in at the NFL Draft, these are small costs and are covered by their agents. For lower level players, this is seen as a risk that are not worth taking but give them something to hope for down the road. Agents and players were generally realistic about what where they stood in the pecking order and what was reasonable for their situation.

The Big Boys

Some of the big boy vendors had their own space around the city. Nike for example took over a large part of one hotel. They had massages, haircuts and more for any and everyone connected to the players. Different than the vendors on "The Walk", the big boys know that players would come to them, that they didn't need to sell themselves (except to some of the top guys) and instead could create a situation to show off.

They showed off very well and very impressively. Players and their families were impressed by the setup by the big boys.

Thoughts

In general, this seems like a big waste of time and money for the vendors. Most players are barely paying attention. Families were but had little power in possible scenarios. Agents were obviously doing their homework but could have done so without vendors having to give away stuff or have numerous staff members there all week.

Top level players already have a lot of options while the lower level players, who were interested in sponsorship or use of product, were not given as much attention.

For this mental health professional, watching how each vendor was professionally trained to run their game on those coming in. They were pretty well trained in their process.

The players, and sometimes the families and agents, got free stuff and had something to do in between interviews and workouts.

What about the NFL Combine have you always wondered about?


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