July 27, 2021

N.F.L. Films Feeds Television’s Appetite for Football

So each was given a piece, stoking the country’s interest in Mr. Tebow. ESPN’s “N.F.L. Matchup” show replayed his technical conversations in the huddle. Showtime’s “Inside the N.F.L.” shared his singing — “our God is an awesome God” — during warm-ups. Parts of the “wire,” as the N.F.L. calls the player and coach microphones, also were played on NBC Sports Network’s “N.F.L. Turning Point,” on ESPN’s “Sunday N.F.L. Countdown” and on NFL.com. For the N.F.L. Network, the audio was even turned into an hourlong special.

There’s only so much that happens on any given Sunday of the football season, but there is a seemingly insatiable appetite for it on television. So the assignment for N.F.L. Films is “to take the same material and make it entertaining in different ways for different shows, for different styles of fans,” said Ross Ketover, who along with Pat Kelleher is a senior coordinating producer and oversees the 65 producers who slice and dice games for the division. They said they created a thousand hours of new programming last year.

While television networks focus on the live events each week, their division films the games — yes, much is still on actual 16-millimeter film — for an array of future purposes. They are simultaneously documenting the history of the sport, promoting the National Football League and providing an important revenue source.

“I’ve always felt that a camera is an instrument of realism — and a creator of myth,” said Steve Sabol, whose father, Ed, founded what became N.F.L. Films in 1962. All together, the decades of films have given football a mythology that no other American sport has matched.

Some of N.F.L. Films’ footage is woven into films, commercials, and future installments of “Football Follies,” the blooper reels that Johnny Carson helped make famous on “The Tonight Show.” But much of it — like that of Mr. Tebow on Dec. 11 — is turned around much more quickly so it can be shown on TV before next week’s games. The unit has special couriers who rush raw film from stadiums to its building in Mount Laurel, N.J., near Philadelphia, where it is processed.

In essence, the shows keep fans entertained on the days when games are not played.

When Comcast was preparing last year to turn its Versus channel into the NBC Sports Network, executives who were searching for new programming immediately thought of N.F.L. Films, said Jon Miller, the network’s president for programming. “They share a similar storytelling philosophy as we do,” Mr. Miller said.

Around the same time, when Discovery was turning HD Theater into Velocity, a channel for affluent men, executives bought two N.F.L. Films history shows and found that it helped get attention from advertisers. “A relationship with the world’s most powerful sports brand lent us instant credibility right out of the gate,” said Bob Scanlon, the senior vice president of Velocity.

N.F.L. Films has a total of nine television partners now, including with one of its siblings, the N.F.L. Network, which was founded by the league eight years ago but is still not available on several major cable systems. N.F.L. Films is responsible for about a quarter of the network’s taped schedule; shows like “Sound FX” double as weekly advertisements for the network.

The unit is part of the nonprofit N.F.L.’s profit-making N.F.L. Media division, which also runs the N.F.L. Network, N.F.L. RedZone channel and other properties. Revenues are not disclosed, but N.F.L. Media accounted for about 50 percent of the league’s $9 billion take in 2011. Most of N.F.L. Media’s revenue comes from live TV rights, but N.F.L. Films represents something more enduring — the footage can be used and reused in perpetuity.

Mr. Sabol is being treated for a brain tumor and has difficulty speaking, but said he comes into work each day. “I’m in the game, but I only have about eight players on my team,” he said with a laugh on the phone last week. He expressed pride in the many innovations of N.F.L. Films — microphones on players, super-slow-motion shots, reverse angle replays, montage editing.

In some ways the N.F.L. was far ahead of others in its recognition that it was in the media business, and should create its own content accordingly, bypassing the usual media makers.

The films unit frequently conceives and pitches shows to networks, and also churns out DVDs with titles like “Two Minutes to Glory,” looking back at past games and legendary players. Lately it has increased its amount of films for television, like “A Football Life,” which followed the New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick for the 2009-10 season and appeared on the N.F.L. Network last fall, and “Namath,” about the quarterback Joe Namath, which will be shown on HBO this week.

“They embrace and approach every project like it is the only production on the N.F.L. Films calendar,” said Rick Bernstein, the executive producer of HBO Sports, which has been a partner of N.F.L. Films since 1977.

The N.F.L. Films producers say they collaborate with the networks but have control over what is and isn’t seen, which is why their programs are sometimes criticized as propagandistic. Mr. Ketover responded, “We are trying to promote the game, no doubt, but we are doing it by being objective documentarians.”

The most popular content is often from the wire, like the one Mr. Tebow was wearing. N.F.L. Films wires about 100 players and coaches each season, up from about 25 a decade ago. “Our viewers, they want to see the game, but they also want to hear the game,” Mr. Kelleher said.

Already his producers are busy preparing for the most important football day of the year, the Super Bowl, which will be played on Feb. 5. Because they try to release a DVD about the winning team within weeks, they were simultaneously preparing four films about the four semifinalists last week, assuming that each might be the winner. (After Sunday’s games, they stopped production on two of the films.)

And they’ll have a production truck on site for something that they produce even faster: the commercial that has a player proclaim, “I’m going to Disney World!” Yes, N.F.L. Films even produces that.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=9396068dbde77307009273af70379a40

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