SBJ/July 21-27, 2014/In Depth

NFL draws up strategy to use documentaries to reach broader fan base

The NFL is reaching into the worlds of Hollywood and popular music for two documentary series that the league hopes will broaden its appeal beyond football fans.

One documentary carries the working title “The Making of a Super Bowl Halftime Show” and aims to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the entire process around the halftime event — from picking talent, through rehearsals, to the actual performance.

The NFL’s other project carries the working title “Collaborators” and is patterned after the Sundance Channel’s acclaimed series “Iconoclasts.” The league has been talking with notable Hollywood filmmakers interested in co-producing their projects with NFL Films.

One documentary will explore the making of the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Photo by: Getty Images
“These projects give us the ability to reach a broader base,” said Ron Semiao, vice president of programming and media events for the NFL Network.

Both projects will debut in 2015, but the league now is looking for partners in the projects — ranging from musical artists to top Hollywood talent. NFL officials would not disclose the status of the talks or detail the business model they are offering outside producers.

League executives also have not decided where the documentaries will be shown. Semiao said the NFL is looking into different distribution options, including theatrical releases or online through Amazon or Netflix. The documentaries likely will appear on several outlets, much like “Hard Knocks,” which debuts on HBO and re-airs on NFL Network.

“We’re trying to service the increasing on-demand consumption habits of when I want it, where I want it, how I want it,” he said. “We’ve certainly seen how the multiplexing of content grows audiences. The more opportunity that you give people to consume it, the better you’re serving them.”

The NFL will co-produce the Super Bowl halftime documentary with the artist that it picks to perform during February’s game in Glendale, Ariz. Production discussions already have been part of the overall negotiations to book an act, and Semiao said the idea has been well-received so far.

Semiao would not divulge which musical acts the league has contacted. At February’s game in New Jersey, Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the halftime act; 115.3 million viewers tuned in to the halftime show on Fox.

The NFL hopes to reach an agreement on talent early in the upcoming season, probably by September. The resulting documentary will be released next April around the NFL draft. While the NFL will co-produce the documentary with the selected act, Semiao said it would not look like a traditional NFL Films production.

“This would be something where we would go to a documentary filmmaker that has a certain expertise and experience in the music business because that’s obviously an important part of it,” he said. “We think that is the type of thing fans would really like — not just fans of the NFL, but music fans as well.”

The NFL plans to produce a couple of episodes of “Collaborations” per year starting next year, though the league is not close to announcing the filmmakers they plan to work with.

Some potential ideas would be to have people such as New England natives Ben Affleck and Matt Damon produce a documentary involving the Patriots or have noted Cowboys fan Jamie Foxx do something on Dallas.

“You take really accomplished artists from different genres, but their common thread is their love of professional football,” Semiao said. “As we’ve talked to some of these artists, they love the work of NFL Films and they love the idea of the opportunity to work with them. Artists love working with other quality artists.”

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