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HBO Sports, NFL Films to co-produce project

HBO Sports and NFL Films will co-produce a documentary on legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, marking the first time HBO has entered into a full 50-50 co-production with one of the leagues.

HBO will premiere the still-to-be-named documentary in December.

The premium cable network has had cooperation from the major U.S. sports leagues to produce documentaries. For example, HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg pointed to the NBA, which opened its archives for the “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals” documentary that premiered last month.

But this marks the biggest co-production undertaken by the HBO Sports division.

HBO’s Ross Greenburg is working on
a documentary about Vince Lombardi.

“It’s a first for us,” Greenburg said. “Some leagues are resistant to go into a pure co-production. With us and NFL Films, we can’t wait to work together. [NFL Films President] Steve Sabol and I have known each other for 33 years. It took about five seconds for me to convince him to do this.”

The documentary is in production, interviewing several retired NFL players who played for Lombardi, like Frank Gifford, Bart Starr and Jerry Kramer. Producers also have interviewed Lombardi’s brother and children.

Greenburg said the documentary will have no connection to the planned feature film from ESPN Films. Robert DeNiro has agreed to star as the coach. But the movie does not have a director or a script as of yet.

Greenburg suggested that his documentary could help shape the movie script. “This film could be a wonderful blueprint for them.”

The Lombardi story is also headed to Broadway, as former Anheuser-Busch marketing executive Tony Ponturo and Broadway producer Fran Kirmser will produce a play about the former coach. “Lombardi” should open in New York City next year.

HBO also has picked a date for its next documentary, “Broad Street Bullies,” which will premiere May 4.

The network already screened it for some of the NHL’s top brass, including Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and COO John Collins. Bettman also screened the show at a recent general managers’ meeting, and some of those general managers screened it for their teams.

“This documentary doesn’t have the power of recognition of ‘Magic & Bird,’” Greenburg said. “But baby boomers remember the ‘Broad Street Bullies.’ When they came to town, you had to lock up your children.”

Greenburg said he didn’t feel any extra pressure given the success of ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series.

“ESPN is using great filmmakers doing a lot of passion projects,” Greenburg said. “We’re going to keep our eye on the ball and go after subjects that make dramatic stories. Our stories impact people’s hearts and minds.”

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