NFL Network Goes Coast-to-Coast With All-Encompassing Draft Coverage
An NFL Draft telecast is about a lot more than just covering the happenings inside Radio City Music Hall. Never has that been more apparent than in NFL Network’s record-high 51 hours of live Draft coverage this week, with the network wired into a record 70 remote locations, including live feeds from inside 16 teams’ draft war rooms, 11 prospects’ homes, 15 reporters onsite at NFL team facilities, and 28 team draft parties from around the country.
“That is what makes our coverage a little more unique and deep — all the feeds we supply with the different teams and players and parties,” says NFL Network VP of Operations and Engineering Dave Shaw. “We are reaching into more than half the teams’ war rooms this year, we are at a huge number of draft parties, and we are in almost a dozen players’ houses.”
Linking Radio City and Culver City
To deliver all these feeds, NFL Network uses a mix of traditional satellite-uplink trucks (about two-thirds of the remotes), its established Azzurro TeamCam network, and TVU Networks cellular-based uplinks (equipped with iPad Minis for camera and control) to capture reaction shots from players’ homes.
All these feeds are brought into NFL Network’s TOC (Technical Operations Center) in Culver City, CA, which has two redundant fiber lines (150 MBps and 96 MBps through Level 3 and Azzurro, respectively) connected to NFL Network’s remote production at Radio City. Sixteen paths are muxed over these two fiber lines: 12 are dedicated to the 70 various war-room/party/prospect/reporter feeds (up from eight last year); the other four paths are two redundant network returns, a Culver City return feed, and separate feed to exchange content and highlights packages.
“Our producer Drew Ohlmeyer at the Culver TOC is sitting there with our master-control guys, and they have all  of the feeds coming to them,” says Shaw. “He has relationships with all the teams in terms of when we are allowed to show the war rooms and such. And he is working with the producers in the truck discussing where they should be ready to go next.”
Plenty of Content Onsite
While live shots inside team war rooms and prospects’ homes have become a staple of NFL Network’s coverage, the key to any successful draft production remains the hundreds of highlight packages created to introduce the prospects to viewers. This year, NFL Network has produced packages for more than 150 players and created more than 2,500 clips, as well as a wide range of custom graphics packages.
“We are so loaded with footage here that it’s insane,” says Shaw. “Our network has done a tremendous amount of preparation in production elements led by [Coordinating Producer] Charlie Yook and [producer] Chris Weerts, [Senior Coordinating Producer Mike Muriano, and their teams.”
The NFL Network production team is operating out of Game Creek’s Glory (A and B units), with veteran director Steve Beim and producer Chris Wertz at the front bench calling the shots. The network has also brought back HFI’s Crave VIP unit for production offices, executive QC, and transmission support.
Inside Radio City
Inside Radio City, the network has deployed 21 exclusive cameras along with a handful of cameras shared with ESPN. Included in this complement of NFL Network cameras are an NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo (supplied by Fletcher Sports), two ImageCam miniature box cameras (similar to a GoPro except with an HDSI output and outfitted with a C-mount lens), an RF Steadicam, a jib, and a techno-jib.
NFL Network Senior Operations Producer Ben Simms and his team have erected three sets at Radio City for the network: the main set (featuring host Rich Eisen, analyst Mike Mayock, and a mix of up to three additional analysts), a two-reporter set in the stage-side pit (Ian Rapoport, Daniel Jeremiah), and a red-carpet setup near the Radio City Marquee (Melissa Stark and Kevin Frasier on Thursday night). In addition, NFL Digital Media has its own dedicated set to the far left of the stage, as well as a location in the mezzanine.
The main set features a brand-new desk that NFL Network is debuting at the Draft. The adjustable set can stretch as far as 14 ft. across (its configuration for the Draft), fit eight announcers/analysts, or shrink to just 7 ft. across. In addition, the new set features LED panels throughout, as well as monitors to provide network and sponsorship branding.
“We are going to use the new desk for the majority of our remotes from now on,” says Simms. “It’s very sleek and has a nice curvature to it. It is slightly smaller than desks that we have had in the past in terms of surface space, but it’s very efficient and a nice shape.”
In addition to all that, NFL Network has also commandeered SNY’s primary studio across the Sixth Avenue at the Time Life Building to produce its NFL AM show all week.
Beyond the Network
In addition to NFL Network’s efforts this week, NFL.com, NFL Mobile (from Verizon), and Draft Xtra on the NFL Mobile are providing video access inside Radio City, complete with interactive features. On Thursday and Friday, NFL.com is featuring its own dedicated coverage of Rounds 1-3 with a studio show featuring host Matt Smith, former NFL GM Matt Millen, and NFL Network analysts Heath Evans, Charley Casserly, and Akbar Gbajabiamila. NFL.com Live is also checking in with its onsite reporters — as well as the NFL Network telecast — throughout the first two days. Then, on Saturday, NFL.com Live will simulcast the majority of NFL Network’s television coverage of Rounds 4-7.
The most interesting element of NFL Digital Media coverage this year, however, came prior to the first pick. NFL Digital Media produced the NFL Media Mock Draft show out of the Art McNally GameDay Central (the league’s officiating command center) at the NFL’s 345 Park Ave. headquarters. The 90-minute show aired on NFL Network, was streamed on NFL.com Live: Mock Draft Weekly, and featured nine NFL Network announcers/analysts/reporters (Mike Mayock, Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin, Steve Mariucci, Brian Billick, Charles Davis, Daniel Jeremiah, and Dave Dameshek) each predicting the first 32 picks of the draft.
“We brought in eight cameras, including a few on dollies and a few robos and basically created a studio out of GameDay Central,” says NFL Network Director of Media Operations and Planning Adam Acone. “Then we took all eight camera feeds, muxed them back to Culver City; the show was directed right out of Culver. We have full comms back to Culver, but the show was cut out there.”
The eight cameras feeds were delivered to Culver over two pre-established outbound Level 3 fiber paths with four camera feeds on each path. Although a producer was onsite at NFL Headquarters, all video elements and graphics were integrated into the show out of Culver City. Acone says NFL Media produced a similar show from the Owners Meeting in Orlando in March and will do the same when the owners gather in May to determine the site of Super Bowl LII.
“We are doing a lot more of these types of shows,” says Acone. “You can travel a lot less people and still get the job done and have a great show.”