How time flies: NFL Network celebrates 15th anniversary
When NFL Network launched 15 years ago — on Nov. 4, 2003 — Hans Schroeder was a low-level employee in the league’s nascent media department.
Now COO of NFL media and business, Schroeder is the only business executive who still is with NFL Media.
I caught up with Schroeder last week to ask him to relate memories from his front-row seat as he watched the network grow from a new, independent sports channel to one that became the second-most-watched cable sports network during the last NFL season — the highest ratings position in its 15-year history.
The first memory Schroeder brought up actually predated the network. He talked about the NFL’s “Sunday Ticket” deal with DirecTV in 2002, which saw the satellite provider commit to carry NFL Network. The idea of an NFL-focused TV channel was a novelty. At the time, ESPN dominated the cable sports landscape, as Fox, NBC and CBS had not yet launched their sports channels. The NBA had a small channel that was not rated.
The channel launched Nov. 4, 2003, with host Rich Eisen saying, “Your dreams have indeed come true.”
The channel, though, did not have live games and had trouble convincing cable operators to carry it. In January 2006, the league’s owners voted to put a package of Thursday night games on the network exclusively — a move that was directly responsible for the network’s growth.
“There was a lot of interest in that package,” Schroeder said. “But the owners ultimately decided to put the games on NFL Network. That was incredibly exciting.”
Schroeder also remembered pulling an all-nighter at Time Warner Cable offices in September 2012, when the league signed an affiliate deal with the sole remaining cable operator that had refused to carry the network. The two sides finally agreed to a deal just before 6 a.m., meaning that NFL Network would be fully distributed for the first time, Schroeder said.
Schroeder reflected on the NFL’s growth in media, which ran parallel to NFL Network’s growth. It took the league’s internet business and club sites in house, launched NFL RedZone in 2009 and saw NFL Films grow.
“This story is not just about the network,” Schroeder said. “From commissioners [Paul] Tagliabue and [Roger] Goodell to owners like Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, the league made a commitment to build out the media business.”