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Volume 21 No. 2
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Should this be a show? Athletes get their say on ACE Media panel

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce got his first taste of what reality television is really like even before the first episode of his dating show “Catching Kelce” premiered on E!.

“They told me how I was going to be portrayed because they wanted to hit a specific audience,” Kelce said of the producers of the show that premiered in October.

The show became a moderate success for Kelce, generally averaging between 250,000 and 300,000 viewers over its eight-episode run. But the producers’ comments left an impression on Kelce, especially since they mirrored similar ones athletes say they hear all the time.

“I try to broaden the influence that I have,” Kelce said. “It’s more than doing something stupid or funny all the time.”

The panel listened to pitches from three production companies during Super Bowl week.
Photos by: ACE MEDIA

Eddie George and Travis Kelce, who has already been the focus of a reality show
“Catching Kelce” was developed through the NFLPA’s content arm, ACE Media, which launched in the fall of 2015. The group has produced shows ranging from “Trading Playlists” on Spotify to “Take It To The House” on Bleacher Report. Though it’s associated with the NFL, ACE Media has used athletes from the NBA, NHL and EPL.

ACE Media invited three production companies to pitch shows to a panel of athletes during Super Bowl week in Houston. The consensus from the athletes was that they are much more interested in pursuing projects that will shed light on their off-field endeavors.

“Players definitely don’t feel in control of their image or the brand they’re building,” said Scott Langerman, ACE Media’s CEO. “They feel like somebody else is defining them. This is an opportunity to shift that.”

The pitch that drew the most interest from the panel was from Collab for a show called “In the Muck.” It focused on the intersection between NFL players and the military. The series would focus on players like New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, who is an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds, who played at the Naval Academy.

Langerman said that the panelists, who included Kelce, the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Eric Winston and retired player Eddie George, focused on that pitch after the session, coming up with an idea to pair an injured and rehabbing NFL player with a wounded warrior.

Langerman and several players will be in Los Angeles this week to meet with production companies and finalize some of the pitches they heard in Houston.

The Pitchers

Mandalay Sports Media: Jon Weinbach, executive vice president and executive producer
INE Entertainment: Sam Johnson, director of development; Jeff Jenkins, executive producer
Collab: Ryan Slattery, senior vice president of production and development; Charlie Faith, vice president of original content

The Catchers

Travis Kelce, Kansas Chiefs
Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
Eric Winston, Cincinnati Bengals / NFLPA president
Eddie George, former player/actor/producer

The Management

Alyssa Milano, actress/producer/board member, ACE Media
Scott Langerman, CEO, ACE Media
Ahmad Nassar, president, NFL Players Inc.

Just as interesting as the pitches that resonated with the players are the ones that didn’t. Mandalay Sports Media pitched a show concept called “Rate This,” which gave players a chance to prove that their video game ratings are wrong. None of the panelists liked it.

“We don’t want to put these guys on a show just to put them on a show,” said actress Alyssa Milano, who is on ACE Media’s board, and participated on the panel.

But Mandalay Sports Media had another pitch for a show called, “If I Wasn’t…” that the panel liked. The idea behind the show is to look into careers football players would have pursued if they weren’t in the NFL. For the panelists, this type of program showed a different side of their personality, which is why they liked it so much.

Mandalay Sports Media projected that networks such as USA, Spike and Discovery would be interested in it, as would digital providers Hulu and Facebook.

“One of the reasons why ‘If I Wasn’t…’ resonated is that it de-commoditizes the athlete,” said Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc.

INE Entertainment drew interest from the panel with two suggested travel shows. One, called “In Your Grill,” would follow an athlete back to his alma mater to take in the local flavor. Another would follow players on road trips as they explore new cities.

“I am looking for shows to find a way to show how athletes really live,” Bennett said. “We want to try to give back and be creative. That’s what the next generation of shows need to be.”

Bennett’s comment is one that Langerman has heard a lot in the year-and-a-half that he has headed up ACE Media.

“Out of 2,000 active NFL players, even the most die-hard fan probably knows a handful of them beyond their highlights and statistics,” Langerman said. “They feel that they really don’t have a forum or an opportunity to show that side.”

Langerman said he was happy with how the pitch day progressed, but he said his group has not decided whether it will return next year.

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.