The mildly anticipated film Draft Day hit theaters this weekend, and it made $9.8 million at the box office. This can be seen with two different perspectives: 1) For a film with a surprisingly small budget of $20, a near-$10 million opening weekend isn’t bad; or 2) Kevin Costner can no longer carry a film to box office prominence. The second direction is where many critics went, calling the opening “a bit of a fumble” and “relatively sad.” The issue with the that perspective is the numbers from opening weekend can’t be viewed in a vacuum.
Film release dates are set months in advance. Trying to anticipate the competition, enthusiasm of the target audience, and overall appeal of the film are all taken into account and apparently the studio behind Draft Day believed April 11 was the right fit. Unfortunately for them, Captain America: Winter Soldier was released one week prior and still came in first place with $41.4 million. (It also set the record for the highest-grossing April release of all time in the U.S.) Along with the shield-flinging hero, the animated film sequel Rio 2 dropped the same day as Draft Day, barely losing the weekend to Captain America 2 with $39 million domestically.
Saying Draft Day “fumbled at the box office” is mostly exciting to the entertainment writers who get to use fumbling puns and is not a proper representative of the film’s total potential as well as its value when pitted against two juggernaut film franchises on opening day.
This box office result is less a referendum on Costner’s star power as it is a lack of interest in a film about the NFL Draft. The niche event has grown into a captivating reality TV show, but paying $12 for a ticket and $7 for a small popcorn to see a fictionalized version of the Draft is tough for even hardcore NFL fans. The appeal to the studio and marketers and Darren Rovell was the hashtag, branding combination of NFL, Draft, Costner and Sports. And a movie with all of these elements has to be a success, right?
Other than the film’s release date competition, another potential drawback to it is its partnership with the NFL. Using actual NFL logos, players, images, and actually filming at last year’s Draft is unprecedented access that few films have offered since Black Sunday (which was actually filmed on the field, during the Super Bowl). Having the Cleveland Browns talk business with the Seattle Seahawks is more easily believable and more enjoyable than the Washington Sentinels vs. the Miami Barracudas. But with the NFL’s involvement, they have an input. Apparently the only issue they took with the film was Costner’s character being hanged in effigy, which was removed, but the film’s tone, language and other sections may have been consciously altered in order to keep their NFL partners happy. I highly doubt any NFL War Room on Draft Day is anything close to PG-13.
While fans of football will know the NFL Draft is coming soon, the casual observer will not. The college ties to players drive audiences to ESPN and the NFL Network on Draft weekend, not necessarily the movie theater to see a fake Cleveland Browns run by Crash Davis trade the No. 7 overall pick. The idea behind a movie simply about the Draft and nothing else is intriguing to the people that care about it, but won’t have crossover appeal with those who could care less.
And why pay to see a fake Draft when the real one is on television for free, with real players and real NFL implications in four weeks?
Draft Day will make its money back eventually, but it’s proof that not everything the NFL touches turns to gold.