The NFL Went Big *and* Stayed Home

The NFL’s fully virtual 2020 draft wrapped up yesterday. For anyone who doesn’t “do sports,” a pro draft is a lot like picking kickball teams in middle school gym class but instead of friendships there are multi-million-dollar contracts on the line. Under normal circumstances this event doesn’t typically draw the same level of viewership as actual on-the-field competition.  You can count on the die-hards, and football-starved fans who’ll check in to get their fix.   

But not this year. The 2020 NFL draft smashed all previous viewing records with 55 million viewers across various ESPNs, ABC, and the NFL network. Here is ESPN’s stats flex:

“Each day of the 2020 NFL draft set records, the league said. An average audience of more than 15.6 million viewers watched Round 1 on Thursday, up 37% over 2019. More than 8.2 million watched Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday, up 40% over 2019, and Saturday’s coverage of Rounds 4-7 averaged more than 4.2 million viewers, up 32% over 2019.”

This year the NFL fully embraced their lock-down circumstances and opted for an entirely virtual, completely unconventional media spectacle in the form of hundreds of live feeds from the homes of players, coaches, commentators, and fans across the United States.

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This concept was so cool that the core of the event (the draft itself) were eclipsed by all the color of seeing everyone’s quirky home war rooms. And there were hijinks! Bears GM Ryan Pace set up 7 monitors in his dining room and briefly lost his feeds when his wife vacuumed and pulled out all the cords. Seahawks GM John Schneider had walls in his house taken down to mount 25 monitors so he could view feeds and surveil Gotham’s cell phone signals to locate The Joker at the same time. Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick said screw it and let his dog handle things because he has literally nothing left to prove:

Bill Belichick's House
Bill Belichick’s House

Now that attempt at trading Tom Brady to the 49ers makes a lot more sense.

These types of hiccups were expected, and we suspect, actually counted on to make the draft memorable. Rather than detract from the event’s goals they actually add a certain ‘realness,’ variety and a human element that attracts people like me who watched despite having zero investment in the draft itself. It was all the more remarkable to watch live feeds from the homes of players and their families who crowded around webcams to celebrate picks. 

So…how in the hell did they pull this off? Which masterminds should receive all of our jealousy and admiration?

The NFL had been flirting with virtual in the lead up to the draft already. Even initial prospect player meetings, which normally take place in person, happened over Zoom for the past month.  This presented new challenges for GM’s who are trying to determine whether a potential player will be a huge pain. 

The virtual draft required a big effort on the part of the NFL and event organizers, who had to outfit hundreds of homes with additional routers, generators, and other IT gadgetry to manage hundreds of simultaneous live feeds:

“…NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced picks from a studio in his basement, with more than 600 camera feeds in the homes of 85 draft prospects, 32 head coaches and general managers, as well as fans and college football coaches.”

The NFL shipped two iPhones — one “Interview” camera running native apps like FaceTime for TV interviews and the congratulatory “virtual hug” with the commissioner and one “Always On” camera running the Larix Broadcaster app and coordinated by Amazon Web Services that will showed players and families waiting to be drafted and their reaction once their name was called. One big potential bottleneck was simply the bandwidth at the players’ homes.   If they were in an area without reliable, high-speed Internet access, quality would suffer.  Because of that, prospects were asked to get in touch with their internet provider to try to increase their bandwidth.

Among other fascinating details found in this ‘behind the scenes’ video, we learned the NFL actually sent special mobile phone production kits to potential draft picks, coaches and GMs to set up at home. They look pretty similar to our own recommendations for home livestream setups that we shared earlier in the month:

Kit

The NFL even had 3 call centers set up to manage feeds from these mobile setups. Here’s the chart they used to keep track of them all:

Video feeds
Video feeds

Clear as day, right?

In addition the NFL feeds, ‘The Famous Group’ curated somewhere north of 1000 fan feeds which were displayed on background monitors to approximate the experience of a live in-person crowd. The Famous Group have been working with the NFL to produce the Super Bowl since Super Bowl 40 and have staged the in-person drafts for the past few years. These were the guys behind that totally wild augmented reality raven when the Ravens clinched the AFC North in December.  It’s no surprise to us they were involved here too.

So, are you organizing a draft?  Get in touch with us today and we’ll help you realize your dream of viewing live video feeds of all of your current and future employees in their homes!