NFL Kickoff 2020: NFL Media Focuses on 2020 Season With Eye on New Home in 2021

At-home workflows, COVID-19 protocols mark production

The 2020 NFL season is here, and, for NFL Media and the NFL Network, it has been a long road that began when the COVID-19 pandemic took off in March. The NFL Draft was set to be held in April on the Las Vegas Strip with hundreds of thousands of fans. Instead, the team needed to quickly come up with a solution to go virtual, laying the foundation for production workflows that will be used during the 2020 season.

“The NFL Draft just came upon us, so we didn’t really have any time on that at all,” says Dave Shaw, VP, production, NFL Media. “We just needed to figure out the platform and how we were going to get all the feeds back. We worked closely with ESPN, and all that worked great.”

At the time of the NFL Draft, there was still uncertainty about the 2020 NFL season. But tonight the season begins in earnest with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans (NBC will broadcast the game). The Thursday Night Football games will be broadcast exclusively on the NFL Network for weeks two, three, and four.

“We spent a lot of time figuring out how we’re going to do things, and the pre- and post-game show for Thursday Night Football was a big one,” says Shaw. “We waited as long as we could to see what was going on in the world and the way of travel. Fox Sports will still travel the core production crew for the games, and we’re going to travel 12 people for the pre and post show.”

Two camera operators and two field producers for the reporter (they will be located in the first six rows around the field) will be onsite along with operations personnel and an EVS operator with the show hosts working out of NFL Network headquarters in Culver City, CA. There will also be additional EVS and graphics operations handled out of Fox Sports’ Pico facility.

“We will also leapfrog our staff just in case anything happens with positive tests,” adds Shaw.

NFL Media is operational in its Culver City facility, where programs like NFL Now and Good Morning Football are produced with a limited number of people and no audience. Studio shows are socially distanced with a single host in the studio and other talent working from their homes. The video walls in the studio are put to great use to bring those external talent into the conversation.

“We decided not to redo all our desks to get the 6-ft. spacing,” says Shaw.

Operations are following California’s rules for TV and film production and also doing regular testing, temperature checks, and, of course, socially distancing and wearing masks.

“There is page after page of rules [for TV and film production in Los Angeles], and we need to make sure we abide by them,” adds Shaw.

He notes that plenty of people are still working from home, with only essential workers onsite (“I hate the word essential as everyone is essential, but it’s just who can do their job better in the office.”).

“It has really tested the IFBs and things like the Unity channel or Clear-Com systems,” Shaw explains. “Our graphics people and our Vizrt operators are working at home, but the people actually executing the moves are in the building.”

Key to everyone’s being able to go about their job has been the engineering team, which Shaw says has been in the building since the COVID-19 crisis began. “I don’t know what we would have done without them. Bruce Goldfeder [director, engineering, NFL Media] and his team have just been fantastic.”

Along with keeping the Culver City facility running smoothly, the engineering team also set up those who were working from home.

“Working from home is no snap of the fingers,” Shaw points out. “It’s a real strain on the engineering team to make workflows that can hold up for things like intercom, multiviewers, and making sure everybody can see what they need. The production team modified some of the things that they’re doing, but, at the end of the day, you want the same content. We’ll have reporters all over the country and be able to go from place to place.”

As if the start of the NFL season in the midst of a global pandemic wasn’t enough, Shaw is also spending a lot of time focused on the NFL Network’s new home, which will be located next to Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles.

“Our building is literally across the street,” he says. “The core structure is not quite complete, but it’s pretty close.” Upwards of 300 construction personnel began working on the building this week to get it ready for the big move, which is expected to take place next summer.

“We’ll get full use of the facility by April 1, and then we’re going to fire up the control rooms and studios during the next three months,” says Shaw. “Potentially, content producers will start moving in as early as May with everyone moved in by August.”

The IP-based technical infrastructure is being put together by Diversified in a warehouse in Burbank.

“Bruce [Goldfeder] is overseeing that as they test the equipment and make sure it all works,” says Shaw. “We will have an amazing infrastructure, and I think that the new facility will be great. I just gotta get through all the construction. But it’s fun.”