With a little more than a week until the NFL Draft (April 30-May 2, ESPN/ESPN2), ESPN has debuted “Now We Draft,” a brand new integrated campaign that showcases top moments from this past season and highlights the kind of expert analysis about this year’s prospects that fans will hear from Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Jon Gruden and others on ESPN.
The campaign premieres with two 30-second spots – titled “Players” and “Fans” – voiced by Academy Award-winner J.K. Simmons, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this spring for his role as an abusive music teacher in “Whiplash.” Developed by ESPN’s in-house marketing team, the “Players” spot features top prospects Amari Cooper, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Marcus Mariota, Shane Ray, Leonard Williams and Jameis Winston. Front Row spoke with Simmons – who also stars in a series of familiar Farmers Insurance ads – about his participation in the campaign, and of course, about sports.
What appealed to you about doing the voice work for these ESPN NFL Draft spots?
Anytime my pals can see or hear me on ESPN, that’s pretty cool. As for me, I’m mostly interested in where the Buckeyes or Griz are drafted. Ohio State had such a young (National Championship!) team last year, that we’ve only got a handful of guys likely to be drafted this year.
– J.K. Simmons, Academy Award winning actor
How much football do you watch and do you have a favorite team?
I’m an [Ohio State] Buckeye [fan]. My dad taught at Ohio State when I was in junior high and high school, and I went to school there briefly. I’m also a Montana Grizzlies [fan]. That’s where my sister, brother and I got our degrees, while my dad was on the faculty there. Fortunately, the Big Ten and Big Sky haven’t crossed paths too much.
How concerned would you be if most NFL coaches were like your “Whiplash” character Terence Fletcher?
Pretty sure some of them are.
What was you experience like throwing out the first pitch at the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day?
I was born in Detroit. Even though we moved to Ohio when I was 10, I’m a life-long die-hard [Detroit] Tigers fan. Being on the mound Opening Day was surreal. The only thing that would have been cooler would’ve been to get the start in center (but they have a couple of guys who might have a step or two on me). Throwing that pitch was also really nerve-wracking. There are basically three ways it can turn out: 1) You’re adequate. 2) You bounce it. 3) You totally blow it, and end up on YouTube as an embarrassment to your family and friends. I’m happy to say, I painted the inside corner, thigh high. Or maybe [Tigers catcher James] McCann just did a good job of framing it.
Your Farmers Insurance commercials often air during games on ESPN. Do more people recognize you for your film/TV roles or these commercials?
I’ve been around a while, and I’ve got a lot of roles under my belt, so I never know what people might recognize me from, but the good Professor [Burke] is definitely high on the list.
Bill Hofheimer contributed to this post.