2021 Executive Reflections: NFL Media’s Dave Shaw on Tackling the Impossible From a Virtual Draft to a Season Kickoff

When the pandemic hit the U.S. full force in March 2020, sports production was forced to accelerate technology changes that were already in motion but not expected to happen for several years. Health and safety came to the forefront of production concerns at the same time as engineers were racing to enable talent and tech to work from their homes. As always, the production industry came together as a family to deliver sports television to a public that was hungry for live entertainment. As we are in the midst of Super Bowl week, here is an editorial by Dave Shaw, VP, Production, NFL Media, as part of our “2021 Reflections” series from SVG’s 2021 Sports Production Yearbook, which published earlier this year.

NFL Media VP of Production Dave Shaw at his home workstation for the groundbreaking NFL Draft production in April 2020.

When the COVID pandemic hit in March, the Super Bowl had been played. Timing did not affect our league business as much as other sports leagues, but we did have one of our pillar events, the NFL Draft, quickly upon us in April. Instead of preparing for a year, we worked with the NFL Events team on transforming a live gala in Las Vegas into a “live virtual” event in coordination with our friends at ESPN. Nobody had yet done a live virtual event of this magnitude.

Live coverage using more than 600 at-home cameras was delivered by an amazing team and a solid plan that was concocted in a few weeks. NFL’s IT team (led by Michelle McKenna, John Cave, and Aaron Amendola) coordinated hundreds of iPhone/light kits and helped coordinate a workflow with AWS.

Our NFL engineering team, led by superstar Bruce Goldfeder, tackled the live connectivity working closely with DTAGs (led by all-around great guy Mike Burk), which championed his facility. At-home talent (AJ Wainwright and Mike Cunningham) used Azzurro’s reliable system/team and used LiveU. Bjorn Estlund created at-home setups. Brad Boim spearheaded in-cloud editing along with Zach Saile. Traffic flow was handled through three call centers: Van Wagner (Bob Becker and Nate McCoart) handled the clubs’ GMs and HCs; VCC (Larry Thaler) worked with player prospects coordinated by the NFL Business Development team, and The Famous Group using Vixi managed fan reactions.

Since April, we all have adjusted to COVID safety issues, and mask-wearing, disinfecting, testing, contact tracing, 6-ft. distancing, UV filters are commonplace now. At NFL Media, it is no different. While the league spent a lot of time and is commended for getting the season off on time in safe environments, we, too, have been doing the same at our facilities, both current and future (when we open in 2021).

Our operations team (Jessica Lee, Leon Schweir) and engineering team (Bruce Goldfeder, Jim Naughton, Lorey Anders, and others) have reimagined our stage programming to accommodate 25% staffing in the facility, with most people working from home. Our graphics team has developed dynamic backgrounds for in-house talent and adjusted to on-air changes.

We continue to feel for all of those affected most by COVID and the surrounding events, including our core of freelance personnel, and look forward to whatever the new normal becomes in the future.

This piece was originally published as part of the “Reflections 2020” section in the 2021 SVG Sports Production Yearbook, which you can read in full HERE.

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