Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL executive Tracy Perlman was walking on the field before the Super Bowl with actors Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Denis Leary when they stopped and looked up at the MetLife Stadium video boards showing the trailer for “Draft Day.”

“They were all like, ‘Wow,’” said Perlman, the NFL’s vice president of entertainment marketing and promotions. “They couldn’t believe that the trailer for their movie was projected on those huge screens before the Super Bowl.”

The league wasn’t done there with putting its spotlight on “Draft Day,” a film that already has received as much, if not more, cooperation in production from a major sports league as any Hollywood picture. Far from it. In the coming weeks, a number of efforts will play out that draw directly from the NFL working with lead production company Summit Entertainment on the marketing of the film, all building to the movie’s April 11 nationwide release.

There will be screenings for top league sponsors and NFL team season-ticket holders. NFL leadership and select others are being given early viewings of “Draft Day” as well. Add in efforts across the league’s TV, digital and radio outlets, and football fans will get no shortage of “Draft Day” promotion alongside their NFL news and talk in the coming three weeks.

“We’re using our resources and not hesitating to scream out loud that we’re really proud of the movie,” Perlman said. “We feel that people are going to like what they see.”

Directed by Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters,” “Stripes”), “Draft Day” (rated PG-13) stars Costner as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, and focuses on 12 hours of dramatic moves leading up to the opening selections of the NFL draft. Costner’s co-stars include Garner, Leary, Frank Langella and Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in “42”), but his biggest co-star may be the NFL itself.

The Houston Texans’ Arian Foster, shown during production, has a speaking part in the film.
The league allowed Reitman and his crew to shoot scenes around the 2013 NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall (SportsBusiness Journal, July 15-21, 2013). Commissioner Roger Goodell has a few lines of dialogue in the film, and Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and several NFL Network and ESPN broadcasters (including Rich Eisen and Chris Berman) have speaking roles in the movie.

Even Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner, who resigned his position with the team last month, has a cameo.

“There’s nothing like the organization and the machine that the NFL is,” said Ali Bell, one of the film’s producers. “The league has been so cooperative in the making and the marketing of the movie. We’re fortunate and appreciative.”

Scenes were shot in the offices of the Browns, along with exterior footage of the facilities of the Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and other teams. Products of the league’s official partners, including Pepsi, Gatorade, Papa John’s and General Motors (with an array of GMC vehicles) are visible throughout the 110-minute movie.

“We couldn’t make up the team names, the way some sports films have, and create our own league or own draft,” Reitman said. “The film wouldn’t have any power and wouldn’t have the energy. We could not have made this film without the cooperation of the NFL.”

The subsequent marketing of the film has taken on a similar flair.

When Summit decided to open the film in April (one month before this year’s draft, May 8-10), the producers and the NFL were able to take advantage of the giant platform that this year’s New York Super Bowl could provide. It was an unexpected benefit of sorts: The Super Bowl promotion was not included in any agreement between the NFL and the producers of “Draft Day” prior to the making of the movie because its release date was unknown at the time. But what a bonus it turned out to be.

“Draft Day” stars Jennifer Garner, Kevin Costner and Denis Leary attended the Super Bowl in January.
The lead actors participated in a press conference in the NFL media center two days before the game and conducted interviews on Radio Row and on NFL Network. Garner presented an award at NFL Honors, the league’s awards banquet for top players and plays, at Radio City Music Hall on the eve of the Super Bowl. On game day, the stars of the movie walked the red carpet for Fox’s pregame show. Additionally, the movie’s trailer was shown hourly on the LED boards on Super Bowl Boulevard, the league’s fan festival in Times Square in the week leading up to the game.

Now, with just over three weeks to go till the movie’s premiere, the publicity is ramping up again.

Feature stories on the making of “Draft Day” will be published on Segments on the film also will be presented on the NFL Network.

The movie’s website has links to both and the league’s draft-specific website.

Beginning April 1, SiriusXM NFL Radio will host interviews about the movie and run 30-second spots and 10-second live reads promoting it. Ads will run on NFL radio partner Westwood One Sports. NFL Shop is sending out email blasts to herald the film’s opening. The NFL also plans to take out at least one full-page ad in USA Today to promote the film in the days before its release.

According to Perlman, if the Texans’ Foster — who plays Browns draft prospect Ray Jennings in the film — can be available without interruption to his preseason training regimen, he will make national media appearances in support of the movie, as well.

The NFL also has worked with Summit on presenting screenings of the film. Before the final cut of “Draft Day” was made, Reitman and Bell arranged showings in New York for Goodell and senior vice presidents of the league. Other league staffers got to see the movie before the Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

Teams get into the act

In addition to the Cleveland Browns’ plans for a red-carpet event, at least 25 NFL teams are hosting “Draft Day” screenings to drum up media coverage of the film in their markets. Many of those teams are still finalizing their plans, but among those that have set their screenings:

Baltimore — March 25, Landmark Harbor East (340 seats): Ravens players are expected to attend, as well as the team’s cheerleaders and band.
Indianapolis — March 27, AMC Castleton Square 14 (300 seats): Colts punter Pat McAfee and tight end Dwayne Allen are among the players planning to attend the screening for select season-ticket holders.
Dallas — March 27, Cinemark 17 and IMAX (595 seats): Cowboys cheerleaders will greet season-ticket holders as they enter the theater.
Houston — April 10, Studio Movie Grill at City Centre (200 seats): Texans running back Arian Foster, who has a supporting role in the movie, will attend the event for suite holders. There will be a two-hour cocktail reception before the screening.

— Christopher Botta

“The purpose was strictly for accuracy and authenticity: how trades are made, how they get approved by the league before becoming official, those kinds of things,” Perlman said. “There were no issues. The commissioner told me, ‘I found myself watching it as a fan and really enjoyed it.’”

Now that the movie is a finished product, the NFL is arranging screenings for top sponsors so they can see how their products are featured in the film. In late February, all NFL teams were offered the opportunity to host a screening for select season-ticket holders from the NFL Membership Club program.

The Browns, the team that is featured in the film, are working with the Greater Cleveland Film Commission on a screening at the 800-seat Ohio Theatre at PlayhouseSquare in early April.

“We’re going to have a red carpet and make it really special, like a premiere,” said Kevin Griffin, vice president of fan experience and marketing for the Browns. “We’re proud to be a big part of a Hollywood movie.”

Although details are not yet set, Griffin said the club views the screening not as a sales event for the team but rather as a benefit for charity: Some tickets to the event will be placed for bid, with proceeds going to the Cleveland Browns Foundation. Browns players and members of the football staff will attend.

Of the screenings conducted so far, one had special meaning for Bell, the producer. An alumnus of the film school at Florida State University, Bell — along with Terry Crews, who plays the father of Foster’s character in the movie — hosted a screening at a Los Angeles theater for coach Jimbo Fisher and the FSU football team on the eve of the BCS championship game in January.

“Coach Fisher told me that he liked the way the film talked about the character of the players, not just their statistics,” Bell said. “And then the next night his team came back to beat Auburn for the title. It was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me.”

With a production budget of $20 million, modest by today’s Hollywood standards, “Draft Day” does not have to be a “Frozen”-caliber smash ($1 billion-plus worldwide at the box office) to be deemed financially successful.

The movie has some challenges, though. Having a 59-year-old Kevin Costner playing a general manager trying to make some player-personnel moves at the NFL draft is not something that spells automatic box office magic — though Costner clearly has had success in sports-themed films in the past. For “Draft Day,” the quality of the movie, and some positive reviews from critics and audiences, will be essential.

“You never know with a sports movie,” said Jeffrey Lyons, longtime film critic and sports fan. “Sports fans want accuracy. When you saw that Anthony Perkins looked like he never threw a baseball in his life, ‘Fear Strikes Out’ [a Jimmy Piersall biopic from 1957] didn’t have a chance. Even ‘42,’ which I liked last year, had some inaccuracies with how players were depicted. A movie like ‘Draft Day’ has to do something special, show you something you’ve never seen before. If the director and the NFL deliver on their promise of authenticity, there’s no reason why it can’t find a solid audience in the theaters and on video and digital at home.”

— Christopher Botta and David Broughton

The nascent International Premier Tennis League had its first player draft earlier this month, with names like Victoria Azarenka, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams among the competitors pledging to compete in the late-November to mid-December swing of team-format competitions in Dubai, Bangkok, Mumbai and Singapore.

Deep doubts still exist within tennis circles, though, as to whether the league — a brainchild of player Mahesh Bhupathi — will come off, in large part because the owners of the four franchises have not been named, and no commercial arrangements have been announced other than TV backer MP & Silva. Add to the skepticism the contention that $23 million has been committed to the players for their participation, a fairly staggering sum that represents nearly as much as is paid out by a Grand Slam event.

Staff writer Daniel Kaplan caught up last week with the CEO of the league, Morgan Menahem, who discussed the plans from Dubai via Skype.

Who are the owners?

MENAHEM: They are corporations, individuals in each of the four cities. They will be announced at some point, and it will be up to them to communicate.

Why are they not public now?

MENAHEM: It will become public. Those guys can do it themselves or they can do it through us. It will be a couple weeks before everything is put on the table. We’ve had extensive meetings with the owners; we had the owners at the draft. These people have been in front of me; they are real.

When do tickets go on sale?

MENAHEM: September.

Could the league ultimately be described as a high-profile exhibition?

MENAHEM: We are trying to avoid the word “exhibition.” For us, there is a competition factor because people want to see real tennis. It is just a different format.

When will the players be paid?

MENAHEM: The final package for the players is 20/40/40: 20 percent within two months of the draft, 40 percent a week before, and 40 percent at the end of the season.

When a new NFL owner arrives at a league meeting for the first time, the commissioner introduces the person before the entire ownership, and the new member of the group then offers a few comments.

After Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf concluded some brief words to the room at his inaugural owners meeting in 2005, he pivoted to then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue and asked, “Now, where do I sit?”

Where the owners and their staffs sit at league meetings, including for the annual NFL gathering that starts Sunday in Orlando, is cemented through a combination of time-honored tradition and some grade-school, seat-saving flair.

In the early morning hours of meeting days, often hours before the sessions begin, team executives will scurry to the then-vacant conference room where the owners will gather later. There, they’ll jot down their team names on slips of paper — looking to claim their seats with those notes just as if they were saving seats for friends back at assembly or in the lunch room years ago.

The team representatives will occasionally make notes for their colleagues from other clubs, as well, if perhaps there was an urgent message communicated in the form a late-night text or an email, often sent from a plane.

When Jaguars owner Shad Khan attends meetings, he sits next to the Cowboys.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
“We came into the league in 1993, and ‘the notepad’ was in existence then,” said former Jacksonville Jaguars executive Paul Vance, referring to the paper that’s set up just inside the meeting room’s doorway that waits for deployment in the team-name scribbling exercise.

Vance, who recounted Wilf’s comments, said that in all likelihood they were made in jest. (Wilf’s brother, Vikings President Mark Wilf, said he could not recall exactly what was said at that time.) Chances are, Vance said, Wilf had already been told where to sit because the Vikings, like all teams, always occupy the same place in the room.

This marks the traditional (some would say feudal) part of the seating arrangement: Teams sit where they sit because that’s where they’ve always sat, and it never changes. It’s unheard of for teams to move, or to even to a request a move.

So when those representatives are scurrying to the meeting room in those early-morning hours — and it’s often team presidents and general managers doing the seat-claiming, given that it’s only top-level executives at the meetings — they’re doing so to mark the very spots where everyone assumes they’ll sit anyway.

“Everyone sits in the same place every time,” said one team executive, who like many interviewed for this story did not want to be quoted on the subject because of the sensitivity of discussing anything that happens when all 32 team leaders are together in one room. “I could draw up a map right now and show where everyone will sit [next week].”

Prime Real Estate

So how do other leagues go about setting up their rooms for prime meetings? Here’s a look inside their owners’ rooms, as communicated by league and team personnel.

MLB: Meetings often have a head table that includes Commissioner Bud Selig and other senior executives who provide committee and operating-unit reports to owners. Beyond that, team seating locations change for each meeting. Those positions are assigned by MLB and are designated by team logo cards on tables. Over a year or two, any one particular team could find itself at the front, in the middle and at the rear of a meeting room. This constant shifting of seating locations is aimed in part at promoting better collegiality among owners.
MLB owners meet quarterly, and one tradition for the meeting that’s held each November is to place executives from the two teams that participated in the just-completed World Series toward the front of the room.

NBA: At New York’s St. Regis Hotel, the home for the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings, the league typically has had its owners seated in a square-shaped configuration inside a conference room. The league’s commissioner and senior staff sit in the middle of the square opposite the doorway. Owners and executives from each team sit together. Sometimes, teams are in alphabetical order; other times, they are arranged alphabetically by their geographic names.
That, however, is just how it’s been done in the past. Whether a different setup will occur under new Commissioner Adam Silver remains to be seen. He’ll preside over his first BOG meeting next month.

NHL: The setup is a hollow square, with league executives at the head table. Seating order of club representatives starts from the left side with Anaheim and works around alphabetically to Winnipeg.

MLS: At MLS board meetings, the owners sit by team in a large rectangle in a room with Commissioner Don Garber; Mark Abbott, president and deputy commissioner; and Gary Stevenson, MLS business ventures president and managing director; and other league senior executives participating in the meeting. It’s a system that travels, too, as board meetings have taken place in hotel ballrooms, stadiums such as Sporting Park in Kansas City, and other facilities.

— Compiled by Christopher Botta,
Eric Fisher and John Lombardo

Here’s how they sit: The meeting room is designed as a sideways E, with the spine of the letter representing the lead table, where league executives and the commissioner will sit. That table resides at the front of the room, with the three legs of the E extending toward the entry doors.

The Oakland Raiders are always at the back, the spot from which late owner Al Davis liked to survey his peers. Davis, who died in 2011, likely would have had the chance to choose where exactly in the room he wanted to sit because he had been going to meetings since the 1960s, when his team was merged into the NFL as part of the AFL-NFL combination.

The New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers, two other longtime entrants in the NFL, have their place in the back of the room, too, near each other. That positioning is the result of the longtime friendships of the owning Mara and Rooney families, who likely at some point in the distant past, before the seating became calcified, chose to sit close to each other.

It’s because of traditions like those that the continued use of the notepad is one of the peculiarities of the system. Several years ago, Amy Trask, then the Oakland Raiders president, said she suggested a resolution that would formalize the seating and do away with the paper.

“Perhaps it was somewhat tongue in cheek: that we should adopt, vote on, a formal seating-assignment chart,” she said. The vote went nowhere.

How secure is the notepad’s place in the setup? The league over the last 18 months has been putting framed, printed team names in position on the tables in front of the clubs’ seats — but doing so only after the ritual of the paper has clearly marked each club’s territory.

The paper notes have more utility the first morning of the annual meeting, when the commissioner’s address to owners has been moved in recent years to larger quarters. This room does not have the accustomed E table setup, so marking seats has an extra significance there.

Vance, who is now semi-retired and living in New Hampshire, said that what he found interesting about the rigid seating arrangement is that it means an owner who is coming into the league who might be the boss of his own company doesn’t get to choose where he wants to sit at a meeting of his now-peers at the NFL. That, of course, meshes with the ethos of the NFL: that the owners compete on Sundays but cooperate the rest of the week.

The seating system serves a practical purpose in one sense. If the commissioner wants to call on a particular owner, he knows — (because of tradition) exactly where in the room to look to find that person. There are well more than 100 people in the room for particular meetings, considering owners and staff members, so knowing where everyone is sitting helps keep things moving.

And while the note-writing tradition does hark back to childhood days, there’s no school-like clique setup that has developed through the years, where like-minded people gravitate toward each other. The Jaguars, a low-revenue team, for example, sit next to the high-dollar Dallas Cowboys.

“People may think there is some strategic reason where teams sit,” Vance said, “and I don’t think there is. It is just habit, convenience. And I don’t think there is a ‘left’ and ‘right’ in the room.”