Live From the NFL Draft: AT&T Stadium Provides ‘Open Canvas’ for Largest NFL Media Draft Production Ever
The Draft airs on broadcast TV for first time, with Fox simulcasting NFL Network’s coverage of Rounds 1-3
Each year, NFL Media rolls out an NFL Draft production that is larger than the previous one. This year, though, the league’s media arm is taking it to a whole new level. With the Draft located in an NFL stadium for the first time and NFL Network’s early-round coverage being simulcast on Fox (marking the Draft’s first appearance on broadcast television), NFL Media has rolled out its largest Draft production to date at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.
“We truly have an open canvas [at AT&T Stadium], as opposed to other locations, like Radio City [Music Hall], Chicago, and Philadelphia, which were all great but had their limitations in terms of space,” says Dave Shaw, VP, production, NFL Media. “We’ve got a lot more room to work with here both inside and outside, which makes the setup easier, and we have a much bigger set than in the past, when we were trying to fit in some tight spaces. We’re in one of the largest stadiums in the league,” he says, adding, “Yet we still want to give it an intimate feel.”
The Fox Factor: Co-Branding at the Draft
Although NFL Network and Fox Sports coverage will be co-branded and the on-air talent combined (Fox Sports’ Troy Aikman, Joel Klatt, and Jay Glazer are joining the coverage), NFL Media is overseeing the entire production in Arlington. Fox will take a clean feed from NFL Media and insert its own ticker and branding at the Fox Sports broadcast center in Los Angeles.
“It’s a great partnership so far,” says Shaw. “It’s exciting to have another outlet to broadcast the Draft because it means [that] even more fans will get to watch the picks.”
Fox will carry Days 1 and 2 in primetime but not Day 3.
More Space to Work With in the Compound and on the Set
For the second consecutive year, NFL Media has rolled out Game Creek Video’s Encore (A, B, and C units) to serve NFL Network’s growing Draft production. Encore is serving NFL Network’s two primary sets: the interior set inside AT&T Stadium and the exterior set at the NFL Fan Experience.
The 40×40 exterior set, provided by Filmwerks, is fully enclosed and climate-controlled, but the front windows can be opened, weather permitting. Steve Mariucci, Steve Smith Sr., and Aikman will man the set on Day 1; Chris Rose, Peter Schrager, and Klatt will take over on Day 2.
The outside set, which features three hard cameras and a jib, will undergo a makeover each day: casual décor for Good Morning Football featuring comfy chairs and a front table will be converted to a traditional desk setup for NFL Network’s Draft coverage in the evening on Days 1 and 2. On Day 3, the exterior set will become the primary location (the setup inside will be disassembled), and picks will be made remotely from team facilities around the country.
“The 40×40 footprint gives us that flexibility to do those set changes,” says Adam Acone, director, media operations and planning, NFL Network. “We have a lot more operational space than in the past, not only for our technical equipment but [also for] VIP viewing areas and whatever production needs.”
The set inside the stadium is part of the theater design created by NFL event-production partner C3 Presents. It’s larger than NFL Network’s interior sets in previous years, allowing the operations team to deploy a longer jib arm in addition to four pedestal cameras.
“Last year, in Philadelphia, we had a much smaller footprint because we were working in a much smaller overall space. Here, we have a lot more operational space, so that gives us more freedom and room,” says Acone. “The [longer jib arm] allows us to show off the scale of the stadium and the theater. You’re going to have 23,000 fans in here, so we’ll really use that jib to [create] relationship shots from the crowd down to our desk.”
The interior set will be manned by Rich Eisen, Mike Mayock, Daniel Jeremiah and Stanford head coach David Shaw (Day 1) or Charles Davis (Day 2). NFL insider Ian Rapoport will have his own location near the stage on Days 1 and 2.
On Red Carpet, Social Media Takes Center Stage
Game Creek Video’s Pride (A and B units) is also on hand in the overflow compound outside the stadium, producing Good Morning Football each morning and NFL Network’s Red Carpet Special prior to the start of the Draft on Thursday.
The Red Carpet production continues to grow each year and not just on the linear-TV side. In addition to two NFL Network positions (featuring Melissa Stark, Kay Adams, Michael Irvin, and Nate Burleson speaking to prospects), NFL Media will have a sizable social presence, including live-streaming #NFLBlitz coverage on Twitter with Marc Istook and Erin Coscarelli.
“The main social activation,” notes Christine Mills, director, remote operations, NFL Media, “is for the prospects to spin a giant wheel with 32 team locations on it to determine their destiny. In addition, we have a #NFLBlitz location, which is new to the carpet this year.”
Going Big on Cameras: TechnoCrane, JitaCam, and StradaCrane
NFL Network’s camera complement also continues to grow. The network is deploying 32 of its own cameras in Arlington and also taking 12 feeds from ESPN.
With more space to cover inside AT&T Stadium, NFL Network has rolled out a MovieBird TechnoCrane to create epic, sweeping shots. This position will be integrated for AR virtual graphics, marking NFL Networks’ first use of AR at the Draft. In addition, a JitaCam has been positioned above the theater area.
Outside, NFL Network has an 85-ft.-tall StradaCrane to provide beauty shots of the NFL Experience area.
“The TechnoCrane and JitaCam are going to give us some spectacular shots inside,” says Acone. “And the Strata is going to give us great shots of the front plaza, which is going to be very crowded and has some beautiful stadium architecture. Plus, you can get nice relationship shots to our exterior set.”
Also on hand are three robos (provided by Fletcher) in the green room and eight RF cameras (provided by BSI), four handhelds (one dedicated to NFL Digital), two Steadicams, one jib, and a Sony F55 4K deployed by NFL Digital to create cinematic content.
Beyond Arlington: From War Rooms on Day 1 to Live Picks on Day 3
The onsite presence has long been just one part of NFL Media’s Draft coverage, which pulls in dozens of live video feeds from around the country to supplement the show.
This year will see the return of the war-room cameras in a record 22 team facilities, offering behind-the-scenes access as team executives make their selections. In addition, NFL Network will have live look-ins at team-specific Draft parties across the country, as well as at prospects who are not in attendance.
A total of 60 feeds are routed to NFL Media’s broadcast center in Culver City, CA, where a dedicated control room manages all feeds throughout the Draft. Twenty of the 28 video paths coming to Arlington from Culver City are dedicated to these live feeds.
“We have our production team and the operations team in Culver determining who’s got the next pick, and the next pick after that, and so on and trying to be prepared with the [correct video feed] — whether that’s a war room or a Draft party,” says Shaw. “We usually try to stay two or three [picks] ahead on what we’re feeding, but, whenever there’s a trade, that switches everything up. So it’s an amazingly long and great few days, but everybody — our director, our TD, our audio, our whole team — has to be on their toes from beginning to end.”
The league continues to shift Day 3 of the Draft (Rounds 4-7) to a format in which picks are made from unique locations in each team’s city, rather than onsite at the Draft. Now in its third year, this Day 3 format has required a monumental level of planning over the past few months, with a full rehearsal with all 30 remotes on Saturday morning. They are fed on different paths. All feeds — which are satellite uplink, fiber, bonded cellular, depending on the venue — will be sent to Culver City and then to Arlington for integration into the live show.
“The clubs have totally upped their game this year,” Mills points out. “We’ve got 30 remote sites, plus the Cowboys will be making their picks [at AT&T Stadium]. That’s by the far the most we’ve ever had. Just a few examples: the Rams and the Chargers are announcing their picks from the construction site of their new facility in Inglewood, the Bills will make their picks from Niagara Falls, and, in Tampa Bay, a parrot is going to announce [the team’s] picks inside the Pirate Ship [at Raymond James Stadium].”
At-Home Production in Action: Leveraging Culver City and Azzurro TeamCam
In addition to using Culver City to manage the dozens of live video feeds from various team locations, NFL Media is also leaning on its control rooms for a variety of at-home productions.
Mayock’s Mock Draft on Wednesday and onsite editions of Path to the Draft on Thursday and Friday are produced via a control room in Culver City. In addition, nearly all NFL Digital and social-media productions onsite are deploying at-home workflows that leverage Culver City facilities.
“We send muxed camera feeds over fiber to Culver like we’ve done in the past at Draft and Super Bowl, but it’s definitely an increase this year,” says Shaw. “We have active control rooms there that are fully staffed, so we can travel [fewer] people. Over the years, we have struck a better balance between here and there. Our operations and production teams have been working really hard to make sure that balance is perfect, and it’s been a very smooth run.”
NFL Media is relying on five Azzurro TeamCam systems to send content to Culver City, especially for its news coverage and onsite NFL Digital operation. TeamCam systems are being used for NFL Network’s news position in a stadium suite (delivering live hits throughout the week), for #NFLBlitz red-carpet coverage, podcasts produced at the stadium, draftee interviews for NFL Now Live streaming during the Draft, and for beauty shots and additional content.
“The TeamCam allows us to not have to run these feeds through the truck and tie up production facilities,” Acone explains. “[It provides] dedicated paths to Culver, and it sends everything we need: comms, audio, video, and return.”
Although NFL Media has a whopping 800+ player-highlight packages prebuilt and available, the production team has full file-transfer capability to access content in Culver, should last-minute packages be needed.
“Our production teams should get a tremendous amount of credit for the months and months of preparation. You will see on our network when we get to the late rounds that they still have packages on every one of these players; it’s an amazing feat. But we do have dedicated file-transfer bandwidth and a team in Culver; in case something is missing, they can send it along.”
Putting It in Perspective: The Draft Evolution Continues
With Shaw, Acone, Mills, and Technical Manager Kevin Reilly leading the way, NFL Media continues to evolve its NFL Draft model. Although the 2019 venue has not yet been announced, Shaw is confident that the evolution and expansion will continue.
“Since I’ve been involved with the NFL Draft, it has become one of the pillar events of the year,” says Shaw. “Traveling from city to city is a challenge for our team, but it’s terrific for the fans, and it has added so much energy to the Draft. I think it’s worth every bit of the work because it’s a lot of fun and it gets fans anticipating the season even more. It’s a challenge, but our team is up to it.”