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SMT Panel: How NFL Programming is Driving Viewership

Focus on NFL Programming

Mark Donovan, Kansas City Chiefs
Neil Glat, New York Jets
Stephen Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Jon Miller, NBC Sports
Bill Wanger, Fox Sports Media Group

The opening panel at Day 2 of the ’13 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference was a discussion among three NFL team presidents and two network execs on what is being done and what we can expect in relation to the in-stadium experience.

WHAT’S WORKING: Chiefs President Mark Donovan said that player intros on the team’s boards, which have video from newly installed locker room cameras, “has been great content for our network partners. They want to see that.” Donovan: “And it’s amazing to see the response in stadium from fans.”  Jets President Neil Glat said that you “want to bring the spectacle to the big screen so the fans can get something they can get from a small screen,” and that “first and foremost, we’re looking for things that entertain all 80,000 who want to look up rather than having to look down.”

WHERE NETWORKS CAN SEE ADDED VALUE: Bill Wanger, Fox Sports Media Group executive vice president of programming and research, said that the network would like to see “lower camera angles to capture the speed of the game. At the stadium, you see that speed if you sit lower down, but with TV having higher camera angles, that speed sort of gets lost.” Wanger said the net is also “looking at 4K, which is ultra HD, four times better than HD, and if we can deploy some cameras on the sideline or the goal line, it might help with some calls. It would enhance not only the at-home experience, but also the in-venue experience, because they can show those on replay.”

REDZONE AT THE STADIUMS: Donovan said that the team shows RedZone Channel at breaks, but “received a lot of feedback from fans that said, ‘Don't mess with the game. I want to see the game.’” Glat said that RedZone is “terrific to show in-stadium before a [4 p.m. ET kickoff]. … Fans are clamoring for it. You want to offer it in one shape or another. We do offer it from time to time on the big screen and the app. But you want to continue to have the excitement around the game.” Glat also said that fantasy lounges are a “double-edged sword because while you don’t want to stop the train of technology, you need to pour your resources into getting fan focus on the field. If all the fan is going to do is go into a fantasy lounge or a RedZone bar, then they honestly don’t need to come to the game.” Stephen Jones, Cowboys executive vice president, COO and director of player personnel, said “one of the toughest things remains getting fans back to their seats after halftime. Sometimes it won’t be until halfway through the third quarter, especially in the club levels where fans are eating or watching RedZone and they’re distracted.” NBC Sports President of Programming Jon Miller said his game broadcast directors “want a full stadium all the time. The game is on our air because it’s important.”

STADIUM CONNECTIVITY ISSUES: Donovan said that Chiefs fans “want the connectivity, but they don’t tap into it all that often. But they want to know it’s there and they want it to be efficient.” Glat said that beyond spending money on upgrades, “there are some laws of physics limitations on 80,000 people simultaneously trying to connect and get access. It’s a money issue in that we need to continue to invest in new technologies, but we might run into some physical limitations at some point.” Miller added that the NFL “may be the only league out there where 80,000 fans come to a stadium and expect [connectivity]. They expect to be able to access RedZone and their fantasy teams. I don’t think you see that anywhere else. And the feeling is that they’re paying for it through their ticket price.”

FLEX SCHEDULING: Donovan thinks the NFL flex scheduling policy is a “good tool for the league to make sure the right games are on the right showcase opportunities.” However, Donovan warned of “fatigue from season-ticket holders” toward prime-time games. Donovan, speaking on good teams and teams in larger markets, said that fans are “used to that Sunday afternoon experience. Then, all of a sudden, you’re playing almost every game in prime time. There’s a clamoring for a balance.”

EXPANDING THURSDAY PACKAGE?: Donovan, when asked whether the league can build Thursday night as appointment viewing for NFL games, said, “From what we see at the league standpoint, we can pretty much build any night as NFL night.’

TEFLON LEAGUE?: Miller, discussing increased ratings for the league despite some traditionally strong teams struggling on the field, said, “I think the product in that case is almost bulletproof.”

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