Sports Asset Management Committee Profile: Dave Franza, NFL Films and NFL Network

By Juliane Pettorossi, Editorial Assistant, SVG

Earlier this year, SVG launched the Sports Asset Management (SAM) Committee, dedicated to advancing the sports-media industry’s content-management and storage capabilities and tools. This group, comprised of asset-management leaders from each of the major U.S. professional leagues and college-sports entities, has spearheaded this year’s Sports Asset Management Forum (July 25 at the New York Hilton in Manhattan) and will contribute in-depth content to the upcoming online SVG Sports Asset Management Playbook (to be unveiled later this year). In advance of the Forum, SVG will profile the careers of all eight SAM Committee members. 

Dave Franza, NFL Films & NFL Network, VP, Executive in Charge of Production Application Development & Support

Franza_DaveFrom preparing meals as a short-order cook at a local steakhouse to becoming the executive in charge of production application development and support at NFL Films and NFL Network, Dave Franza has had an extremely successful career in the ever-evolving technology industry.

Early Years
Growing up, Franza had pictured himself working in the field of sports, but primarily as a writer. While he attended Burlington County Institute of Technology in Westhampton, NJ, he learned about computers and became greatly involved and familiar with all technological components. Finding a new passion for technology along with his love for sports, Franza knew the direction he wanted to go in life.

Franza took his first job in the technology space as a computer operator and programmer for a small service bureau in New Jersey while attending Camden County Community College. He then went on to work for PRAXA, a small software development company that was bought out by Xerox, where he worked as a programmer and then senior business systems analyst from 1980 to 1986 while he furthered his education at Temple University in Philadelphia. As a project leader for Xerox, his team developed software applications and sold them to companies along with computers – one of their customers being NFL Films.

Revolutionizing NFL Films
At the time, NFL Films was looking for someone to build an IT Department. The NFL team had contacted and interviewed Franza, offering him a job to automate the entire operation that dealt with the development of several of the software applications they had purchased for NFL Films from Xerox. Franza agreed to take the job, and started his journey with NFL Films in 1986.

With an ancient IBM computer that supported a couple of financial applications, there was not much in terms of computers or software – something Franza saw as a challenge and an opportunity.

“When I started with NFL Films, my job was really to learn the business and make it more efficient,” says Franza, “And that’s what I’ve been doing for 27 years.”

But for Franza, the biggest challenge was helping to direct the creative environment that is present in the TV and film industry.

“Everyone here was working pretty much with their hands and performing manual processes,” says Franza, “Whether it was cutting and splicing film, hand-typing checks, reports, G/L journal entries, labels for film, or handwriting scripts on legal pads, there was a lot of manual labor and redundant effort.”

The first eight to ten years at NFL Films were very challenging for Franza and his team, in terms of changing the approach to doing business from legacy manual-based systems to automated ones, and propagating the idea that “change is good”. However, once the company turned the corner and became committed to technology, developing their own Media Asset Management system (SABER) and turning to computer-based editing systems, the success and benefits started to skyrocket.

Given the challenges involved and his love of the NFL and NFL Films, Franza has found the growth of his company to be extremely rewarding. Being a part of NFL Films for over half of the existence of the company, he has seen it grow substantially in terms of the number of people and the quality and volume of what is produced.

“I’ve loved being a part of the growth from a planning and automation standpoint, even to the point of helping design the infrastructure of the new building we moved into in 2001,” he said.

When Franza initially started working for NFL Films, he was in charge of IT, and eventually became head of IT, CIO for NFL Films, and additionally, the NFL Network. He helped to design and build the infrastructure that supports NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, NJ, NFL Network in Culver City, CA, and the communication between the two NFL divisions. Over the last four years, Franza has moved into engineering and is focused on developing and supporting new production and operations systems and applications used at NFL Films and NFL Network.

Strictly working with system development and support, Franza’s team of 12 individuals develops the systems used to capture, process, manipulate, research, and play back, as well as manage the massive library on both the East and West Coast, in addition to administrative and operations systems to help run the facilities.

An Industry in Transition
As for the sports technology industry, Franza believes the biggest challenge that will continue to grow is providing content to all levels, all people, and all platforms, at the immediacy that everyone wants it.

“With so much available bandwidth, and so many smart phones and tablets, everybody wants the ability to see sports-related content very quickly,” says Franza, “So the challenge is to do that and retain the quality.”

Along with keeping up with the quality at an exploding rate, Franza sees another big issue in tracking the content in the library that NFL Films is building, which is evolving incrementally.

“Every year the volume of content is exploding because of the rate at which you can capture, process, and store,” he says.

Steve Sabol – A Mentor and Friend
Over the years, Franza has had many mentors that have helped him throughout his successful journey in sports production. Two from his younger years include Jim McGonigle, a former systems analyst and hockey player from Canada who was Franza’s computer-shop instructor at BCIT, and Doug Jobson, a software engineer with GTE whom he had met in his early teens that helped develop the electronic ticker tape for the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.

“He was somebody that I really admired,” says Franza, “He took me to New York and got me hooked on computers a long time ago.”

However, Franza’s main mentor professionally over the last 26 years was NFL Films stalwart Steve Sabol, who passed away last fall.

“I have had the honor to work with a genius, who also happened to be a great guy and good friend for 26 years, which is not something that too many people can put on their list of achievements or rewards,” says Franza.

As for his advice to others, Franza tells people who are looking for work one thing: to find whatever it is that they’re good at and love doing and pursue it regardless of the circumstance. “That’s exactly what I did,” he says.

A Proud Papa and Philly Fan
Franza currently lives in Wallingford, PA, with his wife Kate, who is a producer and creative writer for NBC Sports. He has three children: his oldest son is the Manager of Broadcast Technology for NASCAR, his daughter co-operates a construction business, and his youngest son is a recent graduate of culinary school. “They all have moved out and moved on but they are all successful in their own way,” says Franza.

When Franza’s not working, he enjoys traveling and playing golf with his wife. Both being fans of sports, they travel around the country and go to different sports venues quite often.

Franza is unquestionably a fan of his sport. He closely follows NFL football (Philadelphia, to be exact), with Major League Baseball in a close second.

There’s a quote Franza read many years ago from renowned technology writer Neil Postman that always stuck with him as he looked to develop useful technology systems and applications.

Postman wrote, “What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?”

Throughout his career, Franza has always asked this question to himself before investing in developing any new systems, and will continue to live by these words as he carries on future success in his renowned career.