NFL Media Celebrates Tin Anniversary at Scouting Combine
SVG Associate Editor Karen Hogan contributed to this report.
Whether it was the presence of NFL’s first openly gay draft prospect in Michael Sam or Dri Archer’s and Jadeveon Clowney’s freakishly fast 40-yard-dash times, there has been no shortage of headlines coming out of the NFL Scouting Combine, which concludes today in Indianapolis.
Ten years ago, when NFL Media began covering the event, the idea that 40-times and cone drills could be front-page sports news was unfathomable. However, thanks largely to NFL Media’s tech- and talent-heavy coverage, the Combine has become a can’t-miss event on the hardcore football fan’s calendar, attracting a record total 7.25 million viewers in 2013.
“It sounds overstated, but they used to not let anybody in this thing, save occasionally an NFL Films camera shooting things for posterity’s sake,” says Mike Muriano, senior coordinating producer, NFL Network. “But, once we realized the interest in this and people actually were tuning in, we [thought], we’re on to something here. People are just jonesing for football a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl ends.”
Cameras, Talent Galore at Lucas Oil Field
To deliver 60 hours of Combine programming over six days across NFL Network, NFL.com, and NFL Mobile, NFL Media rolled out a 23-person on-air talent team (led by anchor Rich Eisen and analyst Mike Mayock), four Game Creek HD mobile units (Glory and Pride A and B, which serve as the home of NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football productions), and a total of 27 cameras.
Though sharing other resources, NFL Network has rolled out 27 cameras, with nine cameras serving Digital and one ENG. Back in the fold are three elements that have become staples of NFL Combine coverage in recent years: NAC ultra-slo-mo cameras through Fletcher Chicago (branded NFLN-Focus), Sportvision’s Simulcam technology, and the Cablecam aerial camera system.
The NFLN-Focus ultra-mos are put to work most extensively on the 40-yard dash, where they are positioned at both the start and finish lines. The high-speed cameras are also used in other events, including the vertical and broad jumps and three-cone and position drills.
“Phantom cams are really able to [focus] on those first couple of steps in the 40 or, for a wide receiver, the first five or 10 steps based on position,” says Muriano. “Here were their first 10 yards, here were their first two steps, taking it to those kind of nth degrees and [explaining] why that’s important.”
Both NFL Network and NFL.com coverage are deploying Sportvision’s Simulcam technology, a constant on the network’s Combine coverage for six years. Deployed primarily for the 40-yard dash, Simulcam uses background-recognition and camera-matching technology to overlay the image of one prospect’s dash on top of another. This provides the viewer with an in-depth visual comparison of the position, style, speed, and trajectory of competitors.
CLICK HERE to see a Simulcam clip comparing Clowney’s 40-yard-dash time with those of Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton in past years.
Under Armour Tracking
The NFL Media production team is also experimenting with Under Armour’s Armour39 shirt, which uses several sensors to measure and analyze movement of the athletes. For the 2014 Combine, Armour39 was focused specifically on the 40 Yard Dash drill
“One of the exciting things with that is, we don’t know exactly what it’s going to tell us,” says Muriano. “Some of what we’ll hopefully be able to provide this year in the 40 is how quick not just someone’s first two steps are but all of their individual steps. So, for instance, as we’re watching offensive linemen, analysts might be concerned less with how fast this guy runs a 40 but more with his first two steps [because] he works in a small space on the field 90% of the time.”
An algorithm called “Initial Burst” built into the Armour39 device measures the timing of each step taken to 1/1000th of a second precision, in addition to number of total steps taken, and average stride length, for each athlete running the 40 yard dash and wearing the shirt. The information was sent wirelessly in real time to a laptop via a proprietary RF protocol operating in a sub-gigahertz band. In total, over 200 athletes wore the Armour39 shirt throughout the 2014 Combine.
NFL.com Continues To Grow
In addition to the NFL Network linear telecast, NFL.com is offering two feeds organized by participant groups so viewers won’t miss any coverage of their individual players. For the first time, NFL.com is also providing archived feeds of top-player workouts on-demand.
Other features include Cover It Live (poll questions, social-media integration, and video highlights and interviews), NFL Fan Pass (NFL-exclusive prospect interviews, videos, and photos), NFL Up! (instructional videos of top prospects), a database of profiles for every single prospect, and exclusive video and photo gallery (including NFL Total Access segments, press conferences, and player interviews).
NFL Network and NFL.com are also working to synergize efforts when it comes to on-air talent.
“We are putting together a more aggressive plan of how we’re going to share some of our talent across all the platforms to continue to try to provide context around [the Combine],” says Muriano. “That same batch of talent that we have on what we’re calling our prospective desk, we want to open them up to also being used on digital during certain portions of the hour. It’s a little bit of a balancing act in our production truck, making sure [on-air talent is scheduled appropriately] on linear TV and when we are clearing them to go do digital stuff [on NFL.com].”