On the Gridiron: Tennessee Titans’ Behind-the-Scenes Video Efforts Embodied by ‘Tennessee Tough’ Campaign
Digital video projects centered on fans and Nashville community have Titans soaring in unbeaten start to season
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.
In Nashville, the slogan has outgrown its status as simply a marketing campaign. It’s a mantra that not only has become a rallying cry for an NFL team that has emerged as an early favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It’s a rallying cry for an entire region in what has been a year that has tried us all.
Whether it has been COVID-19, battles for social justice, or (and you’d be forgiven if you have forgotten) a devastating tornado that ripped through the city in early March, it has been a year chock-full of challenges. But, with the NFL franchise fresh off a surprise appearance in last year’s AFC Championship Game and a 5-0 start to the current campaign, the big, bruising, underdog Titans have become the darlings of the area. And the video team behind the scenes at the Titans has been more than happy to take the fans along for the ride.
“It became apparent we should focus on the toughness of our city in what we’re going through,” says David Schindler, senior director/executive producer, event presentation and production, Tennessee Titans. “‘Tennessee Tough’ seemed to fit in with this year and the makeup of our team.”
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Content Plans Put the Focus on the City and Its People
With all the hype surrounding this year’s Tennessee Titans squad, its video team has been blessed with one of the more exciting periods in the history of the franchise’s time in the Volunteer State. However, with very limited ability to directly engage with its fanbase, Schindler and his crew have gotten very aggressive in creating unique content built for digital and social audiences.
The Titans most notably went viral in recent weeks with a hype video embracing that “Tennessee Tough” mantra, celebrating not just the current team and the franchise’s history but its home in the Heartland.
The “Tennessee Tough” piece, driven by Creative Director Surf Melendez, was emblematic of a theme that runs through all the content that the Titans video squad has been producing this calendar year: even during a time of tremendous success on the field, the fans remain the heartbeat of the club.
We are built for this. We are Tennessee Tough. pic.twitter.com/pLZXzHNUUW
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) October 13, 2020
That theme dates back to offseason feature pieces spotlighting the community’s response to the tornado, the initial coronavirus outbreak, and social-justice movements. It was highlighted by an impressive live Virtual Draft Party on the first night of the NFL Draft in April, which deeply integrated fans as part of the show. In-game host Lance Smith and Titans legend Eddie George hosted fully virtual interviews with celebrity fans, current and former Titans players, and current fans through Zoom video chat. The team also worked with social partner Tagboard to integrate live fan pictures and commentary throughout the Draft.
“These were all things that you have to learn,” says Schindler, who joined the Titans in 2017 after stints with the Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers in the days of Phillips Arena. “You’re putting in a couple of weeks putting a whole show together and learning skill sets you never really had before. It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking, but sometimes it brings out the best in you. The [Virtual Draft Party] was pretty cool.”
Even when the team got back to producing team-centered content over the summer as Training Camp heated up, fans remained at its heart. In weekly television show Titans All-Access, Titans Senior Director, Broadcasting, Mike Keith and Broadcasting Manager Amie Wells hosted segments in a virtual format (the team has since shifted to a studio it has set up in a space inside Nissan Stadium; the video crew is yet to be able to return to the team’s practice facility), and Smith produced a segment called “Fan Zoned,” in which he interviewed fans from all over the world about how they became Titans fans and some of their favorite memories of the team.
“You’re just trying to tell all different kinds of stories in different ways,” says Schindler. “With not being able to really be out in the community [during the coronavirus lockdown], it’s all that much more important to do that outside of telling the traditional football stories.”
The focus on fans and the city also became a natural outlet when it came time to build the team’s season-opening hype video prior to Week 1. It became clear early in the planning that the team would have to get creative for a video usually reserved as an in-stadium element for a packed house of 70,000+ screaming fans. Plus, with the very limited access to players, the creative direction would need to be very different from years past. “Tennessee Tough” proved the perfect message. The Titans partnered with The Famous Group to create a sweeping stadium open that used drone shots of iconic sites throughout Nashville and the rest of Tennessee while integrating high-end graphics and slick editing of player highlights.
Schindler gives a tip of the cap to Titans Broadcast Technology and Production Manager Brian Myers for being the “technical guru” who helped get him and his team up and running in the spring when the staff needed to begin working remotely. His efforts have continued to be critical as the control room at Nissan Stadium has been outfitted to meet league-mandated social-distancing guidelines.
Not Missing a Beat for Fans on Game Day
It became evident early in the NFL season that Nissan Stadium might be one in the league that might welcome at least some fans as the season progressed. For this Sunday’s big showdown with the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers, the Titans are allowing about 12% capacity. That number was expected to increase gradually throughout this month, and that factor was an inspiration for Schindler and his team in making their in-stadium videoboard shows as fan-focused as possible.
“[We wanted to be] as close to a normal game that you can get to,” says Schindler, describing how the team handled its first home game in front of an empty stadium. “Obviously, we’re not getting 70,000 fans, but we were preparing as if we were. We really treated that most like a dress rehearsal. We weren’t running a ton of features, and it seemed to not make a lot of sense to be doing fan contests with no fans in the building. So it was fairly limited, but, from a get-the-rust-out [perspective], we were trying to emulate a game with replays, shooting the game, graphics.”
Content-wise, while the show on the big screen in the building has remained fully fed, the team is also putting a stronger emphasis on live content for fans who are unable to be in attendance at Nissan Stadium. For each game, Keith and Wells host a show live from inside the stadium called Live Look-In, which serves as the team’s pregame show and is streamed to the club’s site and various social platforms.
Crew members on game days all wear masks, and the control room has been adjusted to include plexiglass barriers between workstations (a configuration common across NFL stadiums this season). A few positions have even been moved to working from home.
“It is a lot more planning than we had to do before between us and the stadium-operations staff,” says Schindler, noting that “logistics that you always took for granted in the past are more difficult today.”
What Will Stick When Things Return to ‘Normal’?
Given all the content that the team has shifted into creating during this bizarre year, Schindler has been impressed with his team’s ability to adjust to unforeseen circumstances and continue to feed the hunger of a fanbase fired up about its team.
Schindler notes that his team is relatively small compared with other NFL outfits and that has made the efforts of Broadcast and Digital Producer Ashley Farrell; Video Content Managers Michael Deuel, Bill Flanagan, and Todd Gray; Digital Media Content Associate Producer Matt Unger; and Video Content Associate Producer Steve Wisinski all the more impressive.
As for what things may look like when things return to “normal” after the pandemic, Schindler is excited to again produce shows for a packed stadium but notes that, from a digital standpoint, his team has learned some things and executed on some projects that are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
“The whole virtual interview, user-generated content, and content that you can capture on [a smartphone],” he notes. “Years ago, you would never do any of that. Everything had to be shot beautifully with very expensive cameras. People now accept Zoom conversations, cellphone video. [Given] the quality of cellphone [cameras] today, you can make some pretty nice-looking content that way. There were certainly things, like having remote conversations, that, before, you may have not done because it didn’t look as broadcasting and professional as you felt it should. Now, if the content is good, you can grab from that. It’s not only acceptable, but it allows you access in ways that you wouldn’t [have had] before.”
In one of the marquee matchups of Week 7, the 5-0 Tennessee Titans host the 5-0 Pittsburgh Steelers at Nissan Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.