On the Gridiron: Jacksonville Jaguars Reflect on In-Stadium Fans During Week 1, Connecting With ‘Duval’ Community
Due to safety restrictions, production had only one shot for in-venue content during Media Day
Many professional sports have opted for a return to play inside a sanitized bubble. Not the NFL. Without skipping a beat, the league is soldiering on with regular-season games in all 30 stadiums across the country. Similar to our At the Ballpark series, On the Gridiron examines the new routines, habits, and production philosophies of in-venue personnel on any given Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.
Despite 2020’s being a whirlwind of a year, it has given NFL organizations a chance to catch up and reignite a relationship with their respective fanbases. Starting even before the season opened, production teams are doing what they can to maintain that vital connection. The Jacksonville Jaguars allowed fans in the stadium for their season opener, which provided the franchise the opportunity to cook up content both inside and outside of the stadium.
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“We were super-fortunate to be able to have some fans here,” says Carlos Caceres, production manager, Jacksonville Jaguars. “We were close to the 10,000 mark in attendance, which isn’t ideal but definitely better than nothing, so we maintained home-field advantage. We couldn’t have asked for a better home opener.”
AV Scheme: Select In-Venue Fans Alter Production Plans
The Jaguars joined the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs as the only two NFL teams to host fans on opening weekend. Throughout the offseason, facing the possibility of having an in-stadium audience for teams in the state of Florida, the production staff made sure to test out both possibilities for maximum assurance.
“While we were waiting some direction, we bought some decibel meters and coordinated with our events team, football operations, and myself in the booth to play the [NFL Films] soundtrack out into the bowl,” says Caceres. “We were walking around and getting different readings on the main concourse, field level, pool deck, etc., and, before the league mandated [crowd noise], we got to an internal agreement.”
At a time when fans in the stands are a rarity, producing an in-venue experience that can be digested by spectators is different from what has become normal over the last couple of months. When local and state government officials gave the Jaguars the green light to let fans inside, they were treated to a traditional, pre-COVID in-venue show.
“Philosophically, we determined that, whether we had 5,000 fans, 10,000 fans, or 20,000 fans, we still want to bring the same game-day experience and production value that we’re accustomed to, expect of ourselves, and think our fans would want,” Caceres says. “Everything from kickoff videos to player prompts to our ‘Duval‘ chant. The fans reacted very well to a lot of those elements, and I think the appreciation for that level of experience was there.”
Digital Connection: NFL Draft, Offseason Acquisitions, Social Justice Fill Social-Media Feeds
For fans who can’t make it into the stadium, the production team is making the extra effort to curate material that speaks to topics and issues they care about. As protests and marches have taken to the streets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice, the production team invited all members of the organization to take part in a peaceful gesture of unity outside TIAA Bank Field, which was streamed on social media.
“It was a really cool experience and something that the organization supports,” says Caceres. “Our routine conversations revolve around building diversity, inclusion, community outreach, activism, voting, and social justice. I’ve been here since 2009, and I don’t think we’ve ever done anything like that. The numbers back us up as well, because we’ve streamed various things over the years, but, when we streamed the entire march, it was one of the highest-performing live streams that we’ve done ever. Hopefully, we continue doing more of that.”
Prior to the season, the organization’s digital outlets updated fans on the newest signings, trades, and other roster moves. As with most teams, the most active days were April 23-25, when Rounds 1-7 unfolded in the first-ever virtual NFL Draft.
“The Draft brought the same traditional expectations but within a working-from-home scenario,” he says. “For example, you usually see inside of the War Room, so we had to install infrastructure in the GM’s and coach’s house to meet with their scouts for their normal process leading up to and on the night of Draft. We couldn’t do a [live and in-person] Draft party, so we did an Instagram Live session with a couple of local influencers and some of our in-house talent.”
Another big day for gathering content is the team’s annual Media Day. In most years, the event would be packed with representatives of different departments in the organization, but, with safety protocols in place, Caceres and his crew were part of a handful of people permitted access to players in an enclosed setting.
“Media Day kept getting pushed back, and we didn’t know when players were going to report [to the stadium],” Caceres notes. “We didn’t know what the tiering structure was going to look like or who was going to have access. We set everything up in our West Club, which was the most spacious area where we could socially distance with our masks. I think we got a lot of great content for the entire year that we’ve already used on game days and on social media for highlight videos. It was a different kind of situation this year, probably the only crack that I will have at player access, but, thankfully, we do still have a couple of production folks in Tier 1 and Tier 2 to cover practice.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Shoutout to the Jaguars Organization
COVID-19 has caused every NFL team to adapt and change strategies in almost every day-to-day facet. At the onset of the pandemic, the crew needed to tap into its technology while working from home, and that would not have been possible without the work of the IT department.
“Some of our unsung heroes are [in] IT: they continued to facilitate while we were working from home,” says Caceres. “Now that we’re back in the stadium, some of us will still be working remotely for the most part.”
There have been widespread personal changes as well, especially for those who have been with the franchise for an extended period of time.
“There are a lot of people on our crew and other staffers that have worked here for many years and were used to certain procedures,” he says. “We’ve helped each other crank out a lot of content. It has been a grind at times, but we’ve been working really well together.”
The Jaguars return to TIAA Bank Field for NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 8:20 p.m. ET.