Live From the NFL Draft: NFL Media’s Production Bigger Than Ever in Chicago
To say the NFL Draft has become legitimate tent-pole event for the league is a colossal understatement. Consider that the Draft’s Chicago debut last year drew more than 200,000 attendees to Grant Park and once again proved to be a major ratings draw. This year, that number is expected to swell beyond 250,000 and last-minute trades atop the draft order are expected to drive strong ratings. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that NFL Media (comprised of NFL Network and NFL Digital Media) has rolled out its largest Draft production ever in Chicago this year, complete with three studio sets, five mobile units, more than 40 cameras, and a record 20 Draft war room cameras, and nearly 160,000 feet of fiber.
“The preparation going into this is ridiculous,” says NFL Media VP Production Dave Shaw “There are a lot of moving pieces at work and a lot could potentially go wrong, but it all has really gone well and it’s been a great run up to the Draft. I think people get excited about just being a part of the Draft now since it’s three days and such huge event here in Chicago… It’s become quite a show, and the fans get a good chance out here to really get a piece of all of it.”
By weeks’ end, NFL Media will have delivered more than 70 hours of live Draft coverage, including NFL HQ, NFL Total Access, NFL Draft Kickoff, and the main event from the Auditorium Theatre on Thursday and Friday (Rounds 1-3) and from Selection Square in Grant Park on Saturday (Rounds 4-7).
Fibering Up: A Sprawling, Multi-Venue Production
The biggest change for NFL Media this year (and ESPN, for that matter) is the expansion of Draft Town and Selection Square that has resulted in its truck compound being located 6,000 feet from the Auditorium Theatre (compared to 1,000 last year), where the first two nights of the Draft are held. In order to connect the compound to the Theatre, the ops team rolled out a more than 40 3,000-ft. fibers. In all, NFL Network laid down nearly 160,000 feet of fiber and SMPTE cable – roughly 30 miles.
“Our fiber technicians are just so strong,” says Adam Acone, director of media operations and planning, NFL Network. “Jeff and Phil Bartley really lead that for us and they ran the Draft last year, the Super Bowl, and other big events for us as well. It’s such a great advantage to have people like that on your crew that you have the utmost confidence in and you know will figure out the solution to any [challenge].”
In addition, the NFL Events team once again built a temporary bridge overhanging Michigan Avenue for NFL Media and ESPN to run its cable across, along with a second bridge running across Congress Parkway.
In the compound, Game Creek Video’s Glory (A and B units) is serving as the home of NFL Network’s primary show, while the Selection Square studio shows and pre-Draft red carpet special utilized Game Creek’s Pride (A and B). HFI’s Crave VIP support unit houses QC and transmission operations, while two redundant Filmwerks 500-kw generators are powering it all.
It Takes Two: NFL Network, Digital Unite With Pair of Sets
NFL Network’s primary set is located at Selection Square looking out onto Buckingham Fountain and the swaths of fans on-site at Grant Park. Designed and built by Filmwerks, the raised 40×40-ft. set is surrounded entirely by glass and features a four-person desk and five cameras, including a jib. The set not only serves as home to pre/post-draft coverage, but plays a major role in the Draft coverage itself with live analysis in between picks.
The Huddle Social Media Command Center is located nearby and serves as the home to NFL Digital Media. CLICK HERE for SVG’s full story on NFL Digital Media’s presence at the Draft.
“The Network and Digital production units are all working together to create content that’s all consistent,” adds Shaw. “So there’s really no separation as far as how we look at it, it’s just more of how we distribute it. We all work hand in hand and then social media crosses all platforms.”
NFL Network also has a small location at the NFL Play60 Zone in Draft Town where live hits are being delivering throughout the week.
The Red Carpet and Inside Theatre: A Sense of Spectacle for Rounds 1-3
Prior to the start of the first round on Thursday, NFL Network’s red carpet special featured Melissa Stark and Michael Irvin interviewing prospects as they arrived.
Once the Draft kicked off, host Rich Eisen, analysts Mike Mayock and Steve Mariucci, and Stanford head coach David Shaw took over at NFL Network’s primary set inside the Auditorium Theatre. Deion Sanders also interviewed Draftees on-stage after being selected, while Maurice Jones-Drew and Ike Taylor interviewed Draftees backstage for the NFL Now Live show.
NFL Network deployed 17 unilateral cameras inside the Theatre (not including 10 camera feeds shared with ESPN), including a Supracam two-point aerial system, an I-MOVIX ultra-slo-mo system (provided by Fletcher), six robos, and an RF SteadiCam. The Supracam, which was utilized on Thursday Night Football this year, features a 4K camera that shoots sweeping shots of the stage and house.
“It’s tricky in the theater because it’s a very a small theater and you have three lighting plots – for the main show, ESPN, and us,” says Acone. “This thing has to somehow get through all those lights and also make sure it doesn’t cause shadows for the other groups. It sweeps out of the upper balcony so you get the foreground shot and then sweeps across the stage to get the hug [with the commissioner]. We think it’s going to be a huge addition for us.”
Selection Square: Connecting With Fans
Inside the Selection Square tent, where all 32 team tables are located and Rounds 4-7 will take place on Saturday, NFL Network has deployed nine cameras, including two robos, an RF handheld, and JITA (jib in the air). NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport is also positioned inside Selection Square delivering live reports throughout the telecasts Thursday and Friday.
“The biggest thing for the JITA that the events team loves is that you keep it off the floor and you don’t eat up any seats,” says Shaw. “In a big space like this it gives you perfect sweeps and still stays high.”
NFL Network also deployed a fixed-wing plane aerial shot, beauty shot at a 10th-story rooftop location across Michigan Ave., and a pair of cameras atop elevated cranes – one manned and the other a robotic Sony HDC-P1 camera – as beauty shots.
NFL Media Goes Coast to Coast
Of course, NFL Media’s coverage is about far more than just the operation on-site. More than 60 remote feeds are going into Culver City on all three days of the Draft, including 20 feeds to and from Chicago, a record 20 Draft war room feeds, a record 24 team Draft parties, several reporters at team facilities around the league, and live feeds of players not attending the draft.
On Saturday, things get even more complex as all 32 teams will announce their 4th and 5th Round picks remotely – either from their own facility or a site of their choice. These will be fed into into Culver City, where they will be integrated into the NFL Network and NFL Digital shows.
“Last year, Day 3 was a really great day and we’re definitely looking forward to Day 3 this year,” says NFL Media’s Christine Mills, who helped lead the coordination effort. “The teams have gotten more creative with their remotes and their local events, so it should be exciting, especially with the Raiders picking in Mexico City and the Jaguars [announcing] some picks from London.”