With NFL Back in Business, Production Trucks Primed to Hit the Road

The NFL is officially back in business, and for the networks, vendors, and production crews responsible for putting league’s games on television each week, it’s welcome news. The 4½-month lockout came to an end Monday following a final stamp of approval from the NFL Players Association on a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, thereby insuring that there will, indeed, be an NFL season – and NFL games on television – this year.

However, unlike the teams and players now scrambling to prepare for their first preseason game just two weeks from now, it looks to be “business as usual” for the majority of the sports production community.

“Everything is in place [for the preseason and regular season],” says Jerry Steinberg, SVP of field operations, Fox Sports. “We kept hope alive [through the lockout] and now its business as usual.”

Networks Breathe Sigh of Relief

While CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN were left on the edge of their proverbial seats in the weeks leading up to next month’s preseason kickoff, all four continued to conduct business under the assumption that the league and NFLPA would hammer out an agreement in time for each network to fulfill their contracts and programming obligations.

“We have been planning like they were going to play,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP of engineering, operations and production services, CBS Sports. “Had it gone another two weeks this would have been a different conversation as people and equipment would have started to leave. But, up to now, everyone and each vendor hung with us and figured this would get settled.”

Mobile Production Vendors Breathe a Sigh of Their Own

The same goes for mobile production vendors, which continued to schedule trucks for NFL Sundays (Mondays and Thursdays) as if there was no lockout in place. Game Creek Video, which counts Fox Sports as its largest NFL client, never even explored the idea of rebooking trucks for alternative dates, according to president and CEO Pat Sullivan.

“This doesn’t really change anything for us,” he says. “In terms of [operations], it’s exactly the same at this point in the year [as it would have been without the lockout]. It would have changed had we started to lose games, but we didn’t so now we can move on.”

Game Creek will work its first preseason game for FOX on Aug. 15, in Pittsburgh, when the Steelers take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field. In addition, Sullivan & Co. has several preseason dates on the books over the coming weeks with NFL teams’ local rights-holders.

“Honestly, I thought there was a serious possibility that one or two preseason games would be lost,” says Sullivan. “But I never thought that the season itself was in jeopardy. There was just way too much at stake.”

2011 vs. 1987

Sullivan brings a unique perspective to lockout soap opera, having served as General Manager of the New England Patriots during the tumultuous NFL players’ strike of 1987, before launching Game Creek in 1993. Today, as an outside – but heavily invested – observer, Sullivan says the lockout of 2011 is a completely different animal from the messy ’87 strike.

“I think that the leadership on both sides was clearly more civil and more dedicated to getting a resolution than to drawing lines in the sand,” he says. “Both the union and the league in 1987 were looking to prove their points as opposed to getting a deal done.

“The other major difference between the two situations was that the league was in decent shape in 1987, but it wasn’t anywhere near the financial juggernaut that the NFL is today. There was less to be lost by losing games than there is today.”

With CBS in Place, NFL Looks to Cash in

As for what is next on the horizon, Sullivan sees that financial juggernaut cooking up an even larger pot of TV money, now that a decade of labor peace has been locked in.

“I think the next thing you’re going to see is all the television networks renewing their contracts and extending their relationships with the NFL now that there is 10 years of labor peace in place,” he says. “And I think there will most likely be a very significant increase in revenue for both the league and players as a result of that.”

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