New Look, New Rules Add New Flavor to NFL Network’s Draft Coverage

The draftees on stage at Radio City Music Hall won’t be the only newcomers at tonight’s NFL Draft. The NFL Network will launch its revamped logo and updated graphics package during its annual coverage this week. The new logo is part of the league’s overhaul of its media-property logos, which will now prominently feature the NFL shield, as well as a uniform typography and design.

This is a really big season for us with our [live-game] package going up to 13 games,” says Rod Conti, director of remote studio operations, NFL Network. “The Draft and, to a lesser extent, the Combine really kick off the season for the network, so we just wanted to ring in this new year with a fresh look and a bigger presence at the Draft.”

This year will also mark the first time that NFL Network has televised the Draft in 16:9 rather than shooting in the 4:3-safe frame, as it has done in previous years.

Live Shots of Players on Phone: No Longer in Service
But the biggest change for viewers this year will not be something new but rather something missing: shots of players on the phone being notified that they are about to be drafted. The league has mandated that these often emotional shots of players in the green room and at their homes be eliminated from both NFL Network’s and ESPN’s telecasts to preserve the suspense of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s announcement at the podium.

“The NFL has decided that, if we take our handhelds in the green room, that takes away from the impact of the commissioner’s announcement and the viewer’s suspense,” says director Steve Beim. “Once he gets the call from a team or his agent telling him he is about to be picked, there is an embargo on that shot.”

Beim will do his best to avoid airing any shots of players receiving this call, but he still has the ability to play back these moments after the fact via replay.

“We are going to record those cameras constantly so that, after he’s hugged his family and shaken the commissioner’s hand and put on his new team hat, we can play that phone call back,” he says. “We don’t want to miss those moments; it’s just now they will be on tape.”

On-Site at Radio City
The new-look Draft coverage is not limited just to logo and graphics; NFL Network has also brought in Kernwer (formerly known as Northern Lights) to redesign its four Radio City Music Hall sets: on the main floor, mezzanine, the marquee outside, and the news desk near the stage.

NEP SS24’s A, B, and C units are parked outside Radio City on 51st Street, serving as NFL Network’s production hub for the three-day event. The network also has HFI’s Crave Unit on hand to support production offices, executive QC, and transmission.

A total of 21 cameras have been deployed throughout Radio City Music Hall for the NFL Network show, including an RF SteadiCam from CP Communications, a Technocrane (crane with a telescopic arm), five Robovision robotic cameras in the green room, several Iconix miniature cameras, and Inertia Unlimited’s X-Mo high-speed camera system (featuring the new Vision Research Phantom v642 camera), which will capture pre-Draft red-carpet coverage outside Radio City and then cover draftees as they take the stage during the Draft itself.

“It may not seem like the type of event that would lend itself to [high-speed camera coverage], but the [X-Mo] gives us a real nice theatrical effect with some great slo-mo shots of the players coming down, putting on their team hat, and walking on stage,” says Conti. “We’re hoping to do the same with the new [v642] Phantom camera, which is supposed to be better in low-light situations like the Draft.”

In addition, Inertia Unlimited has outfitted ultra-miniaturized cameras attached to the main-stage setup in order to capture shots from behind the podium as the commissioner greets draftees.

And not to be forgotten are the 300-plus highlight packages that NFL Network has assembled going into the Draft.

Three Tenants, One Draft
As always, NFL Network is just one of three players covering the draft along with ESPN and the league itself. This year, the network will once again share a handful of cameras with ESPN, including the main podium camera, the primary jib, and a beauty shot of Radio City.

“We collaborate very well with ESPN and [ESPN Senior Operations Manager] Steve Carter,” says Dave Shaw, director of technical operations, NFL Network. “We talk multiple times per day. We are in the same meetings together with the league. Each show wants to have its own signature, but we’re on top of each other here, and we need to work together if this is going to work.”

Plenty of Feeds To Go Around
With cameras in a dozen war rooms, TeamCams, remote player feeds (via Skype or a single-camera truck), and draft parties around the country, NFL Network is juggling plenty of off-site live feeds. The network shuttles these feeds among 10 fully routable in-bound lines via Level 3’s Vyvx fiber network.

NFL Network also has full access to the league’s TeamCam IP network, providing access to all 32 teams’ facilities via Azzurro’s IP network and robotic HD cameras. These TeamCam feeds run out of NFL Network’s Culver City, CA, headquarters.

Leading Up to the Draft
Despite the massive undertaking of the Draft itself, NFL Network upped the ante for its pre-draft coverage this year by taping a full episode of its No Huddle studio show from Radio City on Wednesday. The No Huddle episode, which was essentially shot live-to-tape and aired on Wednesday night, required setup and strike of an entire stage on the mezzanine.

“We had an entirely separate crew set that up and then strike it, which creates a whole bunch of new challenges,” says Conti. “It was the first time that we put up a whole alternate set up on the mezzanine, and we’re very happy with how it went.”

NFL Network’s live coverage of the 2012 NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. ET tonight (Round 1) and continues Friday at 7 p.m. (Rounds 2-3) and Saturday at noon (Rounds 4-7).

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