As Fan Experience at Scouting Combine Grows, So Does NFL Media’s Onsite Production
52 hours of live coverage will be offered on linear TV, digital
As the NFL Scouting Combine becomes an increasingly fan-focused event onsite, NFL Media is expanding its already sizeable coverage of the annual event in Indianapolis. Last year, the NFL added Combine events, including the bench press and press conferences, at the Indianapolis Convention Center next door to Lucas Oil Stadium and allowed a limited number of fans into the stadium’s upper bowl in an effort to boost the NFL Combine Experience. With that in mind, NFL Network and NFL Digital outlets are rolling out their biggest productions to date to cover the growing parade of events taking place at both locations.
“We attack this show with everything we have in order to cover it from every aspect,” says Dave Shaw, VP, production, NFL Media. “The league has continued to expand the fan-focused aspect of the Combine at the convention center. They started that last year and are putting even more events over there this year. So we’ve expanded our show to cover some of the more fan-friendly stuff.”
For its 14th Combine, NFL Media is delivering a whopping 52 hours of live coverage during the event (Feb. 28 – March 5), including 34 hours from Indianapolis: 26 hours of Combine coverage Friday-Monday and eight hours of press conferences Wednesday and Thursday.
“This event really didn’t become ‘an event’ until it was covered by NFL Network,” says Christine Mills, director, remote operations, NFL Media. “It’s grown and evolved, and now fans are becoming more involved [onsite]. It’s interesting how it’s grown from a very small intimate event essentially just for scouts to an event covered by NFL Network and NFL Digital and on social. It’s grown into a fan-facing event, but it has kept that intimate feel at its core.”
Onsite in Indy: Encore and Pride, Four Sets Drive Multiplatform Production
Despite the expansion, NFL Media has maintained the same footprint in the truck compound at Lucas Oil Stadium. Game Creek Video’s Encore is serving the NFL Network show, and Pride is handling the streaming coverage.
The trucks onsite are fully connected to NFL Media’s broadcast center in Culver City, CA, via diverse fiber circuits (with 12 muxed feeds going each way) to allow extensive file-transfer and backhaul of camera feeds.
“For our coverage, we treat this like we’re covering a high-end game,” notes Shaw. “It’s a very slick production that moves quickly. It is a bit of a marathon, but our production teams do an outstanding job of rolling in features and keeping the action moving. It’s an important show for the NFL Network and NFL Media group because it’s the baseline for what we are about, which is giving viewers the inside look and show fans what they should look for in the upcoming players.”
NFL Media has deployed a total of four sets — three at Lucas Oil (one on the field, two on the concourse level) and one at the convention center — to serve its 23-deep talent roster. Two of the three sets at the stadium are dedicated to the digital operation; NFL Network is manning the convention-center set, which is primarily for press-conference coverage.
“The setup we have at the convention center for NFL Network is very similar to [Super Bowl] Opening Night, where they have eight podium positions set up and we’re right in the middle of that room,” says Mills. “It ends up being a really fun and busy couple of days, especially with the fans more involved now [onsite].”
In addition to the four sets, NFL Network has a position in the traditional announce booth at Lucas Oil Stadium, as well as an interview location in a suite, where head coaches often stop by. For example, last year, NFL Media landed a rare interview with Patriots coach Bill Belichick in this location.
“Most of the head coaches are here in a casual atmosphere trying to pull something away from some of these players they’re evaluating,” says Shaw. “And the coaches have [free rein over] where they want to be in the building, so sometimes they will stop by the announce booth. Having Belichick stop by and do some time with our guys took us all off guard a little, but it was great and got a lot of attention. What’s exciting is, you don’t know what you’re going to pull off here since you have all the coaches and GMs. It’s a lot of fun trying to get in their minds and hearing what they have to say in this kind of atmosphere.”
The Camera Complement: Skycam, Robos, and TeamCams
Between NFL Network and NFL Digital, the operation is deploying a combined 37 cameras at the two venues, including a SkyCam at the stadium and a large complement of robos (provided by Indy-based Robovision) at both locations. In addition, five ENG cameras are roving the grounds capturing content, which is being sprinkled into both the linear and the streaming coverage.
NFL Media will continue to spotlight the 40-yard–dash drill, with a high-speed camera capturing the smallest details. In addition, SMT is providing virtual graphics and graphics overlays for visual comparison of prospects with one another or with current NFL players’ Combine performances: for example, projected top pick QB Sam Darnold vs. Pro Bowl QB Carson Wentz’s sprint).
In addition, NFL Media is leveraging its Azzurro TeamCam system to provide live shots throughout its press-conference coverage. The TeamCam system, which NFL Network has used for a variety of needs for several years, features a single camera and transports bidirectional HD signals via a public-internet connection — along with IFB, comms, and tally — between Indianapolis and Culver City. In addition to a show produced onsite during the first two days, all press conferences are fed to Culver City via the TeamCam system.
“It’s interesting what we do for our live shots with the TeamCam system,” says Shaw. “We can just do one-off cameras, or we can bring it back; we can do two-ways just with a single camera. It’s a great [tool] for our Wednesday and Thursday coverage.”
NFL Digital Bigger Than Ever at Combine
NFL Digital’s presence continues to grow at the Combine. NFL Now Live is streaming on NFL.com, the NFL app, and Yahoo.com Friday-Monday beginning at 9 a.m. ET. In addition, NFL Media is providing extensive social-media coverage across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Twitter Amplify is being used to produce highlights, distribute on-the-ground original content of top achievements across social networks, and deliver original social content to all 32 NFL clubs. On top of that, for the first time, the NFL is coordinating with some of the top college football programs to share, create, and amplify social-media content from Indianapolis.
In addition to live coverage, each prospect goes through the “Car Wash” following his press conference at the convention center. Each player progresses through interviews with NFL Media’s features team, digital team, and social-media team.
“These [Car Wash] interviews help us build features and get footage for the Draft,” says Shaw. “It also helps us down the road, and we’ll use footage all the way through the season. This is an NFL Media-exclusive event, so we go out of our way to give the avid NFL fan that inside position they don’t usually get to see.”