NFL Network Basks in the ‘Glory’ of the Draft

This week, NFL Network has once again descended on Radio City Music Hall to cover the bubbling cauldron of activity that is the NFL Draft. Now in its eighth year at the Draft, the league-owned network’s show has never been bigger: It features new mobile-production trucks, an on-site presence for its NFL AM at SNY’s nearby studio, an increasing emphasis on the role of NFL Digital Media, and even a bit of extra production work in the name of Kevin Costner.

“Every year, there is something new and challenging that keeps us on our toes, and this year is no different,” says Rod Conti, director of remote operations, NFL Network. “The biggest thing for us at the Draft is that, as news happens, we want it first. And we don’t want to be limited by technology in getting that news. So we plan accordingly.”

Inside Game Creek's Glory A unit, which made its Draft debut this week

Inside Game Creek’s Glory A unit, which made its Draft debut this week

The most notable change to NFL Network’s Draft production this year is the presence of Game Creek Video’s Glory mobile unit. Unveiled just before last season, Glory (a pair of 53-ft. A and B units) served as the home of NFL Network’s on-site pre/post-game show for its 13-game Thursday Night Football package (Game Creek’s Pride handled the actual game telecasts). Now Glory is on the clock at the Draft.

“The Draft is definitely one of our most taxing and complex events with the amount of coordination that is required in the truck,” says Conti. “And Glory is a truly state-of-the art truck, so we are very happy to have it on a show like this.”

NFL Network’s main set on the Radio City floor

NFL Network’s main set on the Radio City floor

The network has also brought back HFI’s Crave VIP unit for production offices, executive QC, and transmission support.

A total of 32 cameras have been deployed throughout Radio City Music Hall for NFL Network’s coverage, including an RF Steadicam from CP Communications, a Technocrane (crane with a telescopic arm), and a half dozen Robovision robotic cameras, which were primarily in the green room on Thursday and will be repositioned to the floor on Friday and Saturday.

One of several Robovision cameras used in the green room

One of several Robovision cameras used in the green room

In addition, two specialty camera systems from Inertia Unlimited are on hand. The ultra-high-speed X-Mo (featuring Vision Research’s Phantom v642 camera equipped with a Canon Prime lens) captured draftees during the red-carpet coverage outside Radio City on Thursday, before moving inside (and switching to a 22X lens) to shoot the players as they took the stage after being picked.

“The X-Mo provides very pretty pictures for us and a very different look,” says Conti. “Whenever I mention that we use it on the Draft, people say, What are you going to use that for? But it gives us great shots of the guys coming off the stage and shaking hands, with the flash bulbs going off. It adds a nice touch and gives us a different kind of look. You will see us use a lot of that going into and coming out of break.”

Inertia has also rolled out an ultra-miniature robotic camera located dead center in front of the stage to provide an ultra-wide forced-perspective shot of the stage.

NFL Network's main set early on Thursday

NFL Network’s main set early on Thursday

NFL Network has erected four sets (primarily designed by Kernwer) at Radio City: the main set (featuring Rich Eisen, Mike Mayock, and a rotating roster of talent), a desk in the orchestra pit (Ian Rapoport and Daniel Jeremiah), a mezzanine position, and a set on the Radio City marquee for Thursday’s red-carpet show.

Outside Radio City
NFL Network has no shortage of live feeds coming into Game Creek Glory, including war-room cameras, live reports from team facilities, draftees at their homes, and Draft parties from around the country. In all, NFL Network is covering 15 war rooms, 19 team Draft parties, and up to 10 draftees at home (delivered via satellite-uplink trucks).

With 14 fully interchangeable inbound paths (up from 10 last year) and six outbound paths at its disposal, NFL Network has the ability to mix and match the feeds at will. The network is relying on both Level 3’s Vyvx network and Azzurro’s TeamCam IP network (which is installed at every NFL team’s facility) to provide the fully redundant transmission paths.

“Those 14 lines are totally interchangeable, so we can take in anything and have it up in the truck,” says Conti. “We use D-TAGS gear, and we are splitting our lines over Level 3 and Azzurro. This year, we are backing up a number of those lines, so, in order to help us with the increased bandwidth needs, we contracted both of those vendors. If something goes down, we are able to shift and stay on without a problem.”

Across From Radio City
Just across the Avenue of Americas from Radio City, NFL Network has commandeered SNY’s primary studio for its NFL AM morning show all week. Conti and company wanted an on-site presence for NFL AM, but the heavily trafficked area surrounding Radio City made an outdoor set difficult to secure — opening the door for SNY’s studio.

“Each morning, we convert the inside and outside of the SNY studio to an NFL AM look,” says Conti. “Since SNY’s programming doesn’t start until the afternoon, we are able to do that. We use their crew and cameras and just put an NFL logo in the monitors. The goal was to have a studio with Radio City in the background, and we got exactly that.”

NFL Digital Media Bigger Than Ever
NFL Digital Media’s role at both the Draft and the Scouting Combine continues to grow each year, and that is reflected this week in New York. NFL.com is live-streaming dedicated coverage from two standup locations (one on the main level, the other on the mezzanine) inside Radio City, and NFL Mobile From Verizon is streaming all three days of NFL Network’s coverage to mobile devices. In addition, the new Draft Xtra feature in the NFL ’13 second-screen companion app features player profiles, as well as on-demand and live interviews with NFL draftees, NFL greats, and fans at Radio City.

NFL Network and ESPN erected side-by-side sets and shared cameras, including the main podium cam and jibs.

NFL Network and ESPN erected side-by-side sets and shared cameras, including the main podium cam and jibs.

“[NFL Digital Media] continues to grow here,” says Conti. “They will produce their show live, independent of ours but going through the Game Creek truck. It’s very similar to Thursday Night Football, where we have two sideline cameras dedicated to them that pass through our truck and back to their control room in Culver [City, CA]. They produce the show independently from there.”

Draft Day on the Silver Screen
As if that weren’t enough, NFL Network and NFL Films are also assisting director Ivan Reitmann (Ghostbusters, Stripes) and his crew in shooting footage for his upcoming feature film Draft Day, which stars Kevin Costner as an NFL GM attempting to acquire the number-one pick in the Draft.

“NFL Films are simultaneously shooting for the movie as they shoot their own stuff,” says Conti. “[The film crew is shooting] our sets and talent to use in the film, and we created a little film village for them. [Reitmann] is going to sit and look at all our feeds as they come in. We are recording on EVS to him and bringing in all our isos from our set cameras and jibs.”