Live From the NFL Draft: One-on-One with NFL Network Executive Producer Eric Weinberger

The NFL Draft took over Chicago this week and NFL Network rolled out an epic Super Bowl-level production unlike any it had presented before. With more than two dozen cameras deployed throughout its sprawling footprint at the Auditorium Theatre and Grant Park, as well as more than 50 live remote shots outside of Chicago, NFL Network has raised the bar for its Draft coverage.

SVG sat down NFL Network Executive Producer Eric Weinberger, who has been with the network since it launched more than a decade ago, to discuss how Chicago changed the network’s vision for the Draft, the best of a long list of production toys on-hand, and how NFL Network looks to differentiate its Draft coverage from all others. 

Eric Weinberger on hand at the NFL Draft compound in Chicago

Eric Weinberger at the NFL Draft compound in Chicago

What is the biggest difference in NFL Network’s Draft production this year compared to previous years at Radio City Music Hall?
It’s about five times the show just from a footprint and production standpoint. The other good part is we were able to get in here much earlier than we were at Radio City, which is booked almost every day. So we had a lot more time to set up, which allowed us to rehearse a day earlier and get everything sorted out sooner. For as big of a show as it is, the setup here has actually been easier.

When did you start brainstorming and planning for what you could do here with the Draft in Chicago?
I think everyone from the league to [Draft Town production vendor] C3 Presents to the Network and ESPN started working on it the minute the announcement came down. We’ve been working on this a long time now and are extremely proud of what we think we’re going to be able to present here over the next few days.

What portion of the Draft are you most excited about over the next few days?
I’m excited for Saturday most of all. Everything outside is going to look amazing at night on Thursday and Friday, but the real action and all the players are still inside. On Saturday, if it’s 75 degrees here and we get 100,000 people out at Grant Park, that’s going to be just amazing. That is the goal – to add that energy and fan component. It’s truly become like a Super Bowl experience out here and we’re very excited about making that part of the coverage.

How did you work around the smaller footprint of the Auditorium Theatre compared to Radio City?
That was the first thing we realized when we walked in – how much smaller and more narrow it was. We had to change the green room for the players, so it is raised in a double-decker format now. We had to move our sets wider out to the side and shrink them. That challenged us editorially how to position talent, but it made us think differently about how we are going to present the Draft. So I think you are going to see a much different presentation from the Network. We are still going to have a large presence inside, but we are definitely going to incorporate the outside set a lot.

In terms of “wow-factor” production elements, what is new this year for NFL Network’s Draft coverage?
We are using a Tower camera on tracks right in front of the [stage] in place of the jib that we previously had at the front of the house. That will give us a great glimpse of the [draftees] as the walk onto the stage. That’s definitely the coolest new thing this year.

What about the preproduced segment are you most excited about this year?
Our open is just phenomenal. It is voiced by Dick Butkus and takes you on a tour of Chicago. Is a true ode to the city and it’s a great way to kick everything off.

How do you try to differentiate your coverage to make people tune into NFL Network over ESPN or other outlets for Draft coverage?
I think our biggest differentiator is our coverage of the 32 teams. We have 16 war rooms and more than 20 team parties in cities all over the country. We get out of the building and into the cities a lot more. That is what we have really pushed over the past few years. You are really going to see that on Saturday when the picks are made from sites. That is a massive operational challenge but it is going to be very exciting.

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