By: Brian Leopold
“With the second pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select Carson Wentz, quarterback from North Dakota State.” With that announcement, the Carson Wentz era began in Philadelphia and Eagles fans everywhere went wild.
Hungry for information about their team’s landmark first-round draft pick and the many subsequent surprises the 2016 draft would hold, thousands of Eagles’ fans turned to their most reliable source for in-depth insider information about the midnight green and black, PhiladelphiaEagles.com. As part of their “Eagles Draft Central” coverage, the team’s internal video production department – Eagles Network – undertook a massive effort in an attempt to satisfy their fans’ insatiable demand for “everything draft,” coverage that extended far beyond the Philadelphia media market.
Mark Leblang directs and co-produces the team’s draft coverage, and says that, in recent years, the Eagles have taken special care to differentiate their coverage from the nationally-produced draft coverage available on ESPN and from the NFL Network. “We feel there’s an opportunity to provide Eagles fans with a more tailored coverage strategy,” Leblang says, “which of course is what they’re most interested in. What did the team do and how will it affect the fans? We’re positioned to offer them a comprehensive analysis of the Eagles’ selection, and then, add in additional perspective from outside football experts. We also loop in interviews from the people who should know these draft picks best; their former coaches and coordinators, former teammates, anybody who can help engage our fans and provide them with information about why they should be excited about the players the Eagles drafted.”
“Eagles Draft Central” Reaches a Huge Audience
Before the three-day draft event was finished, “Eagles Draft Central” would provide almost 12 hours of live coverage to the team’s rabid fan base, originating from two different studios inside the team’s headquarters at the NovaCare Complex, from Lincoln Financial Field, the stadium site a mile away, from site of the draft in Chicago, the historic Auditorium Theater at Roosevelt University, and from other remote locations via Skype. At the heart of this massive production effort were the Eagles’ two TriCaster 8000s, one of them running the latest TriCaster Advanced Edition software, incorporating NewTek’s NDI [Network Device Interface] technology.
During the three days of Eagles draft coverage, over 110,000 total video impressions were generated, with just shy of 79,000 unique impressions, and an average viewing duration of 13 minutes and 22 seconds. 88.2% of viewers watched the coverage live, with 11.8% choosing to view the site’s video assets on-demand. A whopping 89.4% of viewers were from outside the Philadelphia metro area, and surprisingly, more than 10% of the team’s draft coverage viewers were international.
“Whether the audience is domestic, international or local we try to give viewers something they can’t get anywhere else,” show producer Mark Leblang said. “We’re really proud of that.”
With ESPN and the NFL network providing wall-to-wall coverage of the NFL draft, the Eagles realized their fan base was not best served by an attempt to duplicate those networks’ draft coverage. Instead, “Eagles Draft Central” tailored coverage specifically to Eagles fans, not draft fans. “We recognize that we have a unique perspective to offer,” Leblang said. “And yes, other teams’ draft moves matter too, but what Eagles fans are coming to us for is coverage of the Eagles’ picks. And so, we felt we positioned ourselves really, really well this year to offer fans the kind of coverage they simply couldn’t get anywhere else.”
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Eagles Behind-The-Scenes Coverage
As draft weekend 2016 approached, the Eagles Network crew found itself in a unique and enviable position. Through a series of pre-draft maneuvers, the Eagles were able to move up in the first round, wheeling and dealing their way into the second overall pick in the draft. Through this series of moves, the Eagles’ front office had made it apparent their intention was to draft a marquee quarterback in the first round, most likely Carson Wentz of North Dakota State or Jared Goff from Cal. When the Rams selected Goff with the draft’s first pick, the Eagles Network crew was able to unleash a barrage of information directed at Eagles fans, explaining why Carson Wentz was the perfect pick for the team and examining the qualities of the team’s franchise quarterback of the future.
Such prescient knowledge is a luxury for draft day producers, and the team working on “Eagles Draft Central” was able to make use of this advantage to pre-produce an impressive stream of support material analyzing the team’s landmark first-round pick. In addition to the on-set assets, the producers’ exclusive access to the Eagles’ draft war room allowed “Eagles Draft Central” to provide timely reaction to the Wentz pick from a variety of team insiders, including coaches and other Eagles personnel.
“Because we knew fans were going to be excited about the number-two pick, and the general implications of drafting a quarterback, we departed from general draft discussion the moment we selected Wentz,” Leblang said. “After that, we continued for the rest of the evening talking about those things; why Wentz was the player the Eagles targeted in the first place, the x’s and o’s breakdowns, the live press conferences. We followed that up by soliciting feedback from close associates of the draft pick. We’ve always tried to get the player’s head coach from college, the high school head coach, a coordinator, and then, add feedback from any draft analyst who really promoted Wentz as the best available quarterback prospect. We didn’t even attempt to readdress what other teams were doing in Round One until the end of the night because we knew the strength of our program was going to be continuing tailored coverage of Wentz.”
Meet the “Eagles Draft Central” Coverage Team
Coverage of Night One of the draft was anchored from the main set inside the team’s main headquarters at the NovaCare Complex by Chris McPherson and Ross Tucker. Leblang, co-producer Ray Doyle, and a production crew of six were stationed in a control room directly adjacent to the studio. At the heart of this production was a TriCaster 8000 running NewTek’s newly updated TriCaster Advanced Edition software, equipped with NDI (Network Device Interface). Additionally, ten other staffers were deployed either elsewhere in the NovaCare Complex or out in the field lending their talents to the broadcast, meaning that a production staff of 17 managed to produce 12 hours of full-blown draft coverage.
Thanks to the many content resources the Eagles Network team had at its disposal during draft coverage, McPherson and Tucker had plenty to talk about. The Eagles production team put in hundreds of hours of prep work prior to the draft preparing sophisticated graphics, videos stories and inserts that were integrated into the broadcast. Leblang was especially pleased with the high-quality graphics that Doyle and graphics coordinator Melissa Kelly were able to produce for the show using the facility’s ChyronIP titling system for TriCaster. The Chyron system ran Lyric 8.8 two-channel software, and was connected to the TriCaster 8000 via NDI. Ingest and playback of video assets for the show were provided by a BlackMagic HyperDeck Studio SSD recorder, as well as the TriCaster’s own onboard replay busses.
A critical component of Eagles Network’s strategy on draft weekend was to provide viewers with analysis of the team’s draft selections on the field. For that, a second studio was at the ready, equipped with another TriCaster 8000 and a Fingerworks Telestrator. In that studio, analysts Fran Duffy and Greg Cosell – an NFL Films senior producer – were poised to offer unique insight into the skill-set of each of the Eagles’ draft picks.
“Professional sports teams are the perfect demographic for what NewTek offers right now,” Leblang said. “The TriCaster, and a lot of their other devices; 3Play, TalkShow, and the other products NewTek offers, suit our needs extremely well. I would recommend NewTek products to anyone in our industry – professional sports teams, colleges, high school programs. I think NewTek’s product line is so attractively priced and their capabilities are so much further ahead of the other companies, that it would be considered a no-brainer to go with them.”
Being the official production arm of the Philadelphia Eagles does have its advantages, and Eagles Network was able to leverage those advantages by placing Eagles Insider, Dave Spadaro inside the war room in another part of the team’s NovaCare Complex. Spadaro was then able to deliver reports from a camera set-up just outside the doors of the top-secret hub of Eagles’ draft activity (connected via a Teradek Beam encoder/decoder pair), giving viewers a feel for the mood in the room at various points during the tense, drama-packed draft weekend.
“Spadaro was able to capture and describe the mentality of the front office before our first pick,” Leblang said, “and then, the reaction after the pick. Then, he was able to channel that information to our viewers, saying, ‘Hey, I was there. It was like this. It was businesslike. Yes, there was some celebration, but this is the draft, and it doesn’t end in round one.’ We thought that was a really successful use of Dave.”
The Eagles production team was able to leverage their organization’s robust network infrastructure to achieve other goals, as well. Rather than invest in costly fiber to transmit video between the two sites, other encoder pairs were used to share the “Eagles Draft Central” program feed with fans assembled at the team’s draft party and to send various camera feeds from throughout the stadium back to the studio control room. “The robust nature of our internal network makes the move to IP-based workflows, including NewTek’s NDI, all the more attractive to us,” Leblang explained, “we can do so much now that we couldn’t before.”
All This and Chicago Too!
But those weren’t the only resources available to Eagles Network during the draft. The team also stationed correspondent Alex Smith and another camera in Chicago, the official site of the 2016 draft. The Chicago-based camera crew was equipped with a LiveU LU500 mobile uplink solution, allowing them to record and turn around an exclusive in-depth interview with Carson Wentz minutes after he came off the stage at the draft site.
“The turnaround time from the moment the interview finished until it played on the air was about five minutes,” Leblang said. “But it was exclusive, and we understood that it was more important to play the interview and have it secure than it was to technically take it live. That was our strategy all along. Of course, we were heavily promoting during the broadcast and on all our social media platforms that we would have that exclusive one-on-one with Wentz from Chicago, his first one as an Eagle.”
By the time “Eagles Draft Central” signed off on Night One of the draft, it was almost midnight, and the Eagles Network team had provided more than two hours of Eagles-centric coverage and analysis of the Carson Wentz pick. As smooth and successful as the show had been, it was not yet time to celebrate. There were still two days of draft coverage to produce.
On2 Days 2 and 3
During days two and three of the draft, matters became far less certain for the “Eagles Draft Central” production team. The Eagles didn’t take their second pick until the draft’s third round at Pick #87, then waited again until the fifth round, when the team made two picks at #153 and #164. The Eagles made their next draft selection in the sixth round at #188 and then, wound up with a plethora of picks in the seventh round, three in all, #233, #241, and #250, the third-to-last pick in the 2016 draft.
“The front office ended up selecting players that we weren’t quite so prepared for them to take,” Leblang told me. “That’s what makes being organized on draft weekend so important. We understood that there had to be people at the ready to produce video and photo assets in support of our production for times like that. However, because the TriCaster is itself a network-connected device, delivery of those assets took so little time that our production never suffered a drop in quality.”
While national draft coverage quickly moved on after every Eagles pick, “Eagles Draft Central” was able to linger after each selection, highlighting each pick’s potential impact on the Eagles’ roster. Former Eagle Ike Reese replaced Ross Tucker on the main set as Chris McPherson’s co-host, and the two anchors provided nuanced reactions to each Eagles’ draft selection. Coverage was again enhanced with frequent film-based analysis from secondary hosts, Cosell and Duffy, reactions from fans via live phone calls, and live coverage of the post-selection press conferences. And the production team had yet one more exciting piece of emerging technology to add to the fray: NewTek’s TalkShow.
Tony Pauline is the publisher of DraftInsider.net and is widely considered one of the most knowledgeable draft experts in the business. Hoping to bring more objective coverage of the Eagles’ draft picks. “Eagles Draft Central” reached out to Pauline, asking him to become part of their coverage package. It was a tremendous idea with only one drawback. Pauline works out of New York City, and arranging a satellite video link to Pauline’s draft bunker would have proved prohibitively expensive. But as one well-known national football commentator is fond of saying, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Using TalkShow VS-100, a NewTek device that connects Skype users worldwide into any TriCaster workflow, “Eagles Draft Central” was able to incorporate Pauline’s analysis and unvarnished draft opinions into their coverage with ease and at very little cost. It was just one more exclusive aspect of the team’s elaborate draft coverage, all thanks to the flexibility of the Eagles’ TriCaster 8000.
“We debuted TalkShow last year as part of our draft coverage,” Leblang told me. “Before that, because of the headaches and uncertainty involved in Skype integration, realistically I would’ve said, no, we can’t do that. With TalkShow and the Skype TX platform, adding guests is as easy as if it were a phone call, but with the added production value that video provides.”
“Eagles Draft Central” an Unqualified Success
Will Carson Wentz prove to be an NFL success story and become the Eagles franchise quarterback of the future? Maybe yes, and maybe no. In the crazy world of the NFL, only time will provide the answer to that question. But there is no doubt that “Eagles Draft Central” 2016 was an unqualified success. Thanks to a pair of TriCaster 8000s, the Eagles were able to provide rock star access to their fans and never miss a beat during twelve hours of live coverage.
“Draft weekend was a great example of why the TriCaster is such a valuable appliance, “Leblang said. “We delivered several hours of live coverage and the TriCaster was stable throughout even though we had sources constantly being rotated in and out, assets constantly being delivered to the hard drives for playback or live to air, we didn’t suffer any kind of outages or degraded performance, any at all. I was extremely pleased with the performance not only of that system but all our systems. Everything worked magnificently.”
“I feel TriCaster is the best solution for multi-camera, multi-source, networkable live production in its market. The software, to me, makes sense. It’s easy to teach; it’s easy for relative newcomers to understand. It’s just intuitive enough, and then, on top of that, it’s reliable enough and robust enough to reflect the ambition we had to put on the best broadcast- grade professional video production possible.”
And now that the team’s production facility is equipped with TriCaster Advanced Edition software supporting NewTek’s NDI technology, next year’s draft production promises to be even more elaborate and ambitious. “Not everybody can invest in copper or fiber infrastructure,” Leblang told me, “but most places have access to a solid, professional, enterprise-grade data network, and NDI is the answer for that. We’re a good example of a department that has a great network infrastructure, but not a lot of purpose-built space. Fortunately, we didn’t need to reinvest in video infrastructure. It’s network infrastructure that NDI will help us leverage in the future, allowing us to use what we already have in place while being able to focus on technology that integrates easily into our TriCaster-based production ecosystem.”
“I’m very excited about the implications of NDI,” Leblang continued, “especially when I think about where the bottlenecks tend to occur during our production schedule. From the time no longer needed to physically route sources to and from our TriCasters to the time it takes to offload recorded media to our central storage, I expect NDI to help us gain back dozens of production-hours every week.
“There are still so many NDI-enabled workflows that are only just emerging. We’re starting to see SDI-NDI converters being advertised or hear talk of cameras with NDI connectivity built in. Personally, I can’t wait to see the NDI plug-in for Adobe in action, especially on game days. Play out a series of highlights directly from a Premiere Pro sequence – rather than having to transcode and import them – during a live show? Sign me up.
“We’re always looking for ways to be more efficient or to expand our ability to create awesome content. For a production group of our size, that means investing in technologies that, first and foremost, integrate well with what we’ve already got in-house. I see NDI as the perfect response to that need, and I’m betting a lot of other folks will feel the same way.”
Key Equipment & Software Used as part of “Eagles Draft Central” Coverage
- (2) NewTek TriCaster 8000 Advanced Edition. Main production switcher running AE-2 (NDI version) Secondary switcher running AE-1
- Fingerworks Telestrator Studio Edition
- (4) Teradek Beam Encoder/Decoder Pairs transmitting between stadium and studio facility
- ChyronIP • Running Lyric 8.8 (2channel) and connected via NDI
- NewTek TalkShow VS 100 connected to main switcher via NDI
- (3) Panasonic AWHE130 PTZ Camera connected to main switcher over IP, controlled by main switcher manually and via macro
- LiveU LU500 • Bonded cellular mobile uplink solution deployed to NFL Draft in Chicago
- BlackMagic Smart Videohub connected to main production switcher over IP, sources switched via TriCaster software
- (3) BlackMagic HyperDeck Studio SSD Recorders used for ingest and playback
- NewTek NDI Monitor Software allowing Production Supervisor to remotely monitor live TriCaster inputs/outputs
- Unity Intercom iOS System, an iPhone-based intercom solution allowing party-line connectivity to remotesite producers and camera operators
- Total Video Impressions: 110,670
- Unique Impressions: 78,851
- Total Minutes: 1,000,520
- Viewership was predominantly live (88.2% vs. 11.8% on-demand) and desktopbased (76.3% vs. a combined 23.3% mobile/tablet)
- Day 3 coverage was the strongest day with 46,000+ total views
- Highest single hour included Wentz’s post-selection press conference at 9,100+, followed by the Wentz selection on Day 1 at 8,200+ impressions
- 4% of viewers came from domestic markets (Fargo, ND accounted for 0.26% of viewers)
- 6% of viewers were international, with Canada (2.2%) leading the way.
Production and On-air Staff Used to Produce Coverage
Main Studio (9)
- Host – Chris McPherson
- Cohost – Ross Tucker/Ike Reese
- Director – Mark Leblang
- Producer – Ray Doyle
- Technical Director – Dan Armenti
- Ingest/Playback Technician/Camera Operator – Michael Galayda
- Audio Technician – Michael Ragone
- Stage Manager – Eric Long
- Graphics Operator – Melissa Kelly
- Secondary Studio (6):
- Host – Fran Duffy
- Analyst – Greg Cosell
- Camera Operator I – Ryan McDonald
- Camera Operator II – Thomas Meenan
- Technical Director – Grace Dollarton
- Audio Technician – Bryan Thomas
- Remote Sites (4) (Chicago and War Room cams)
- Correspondent I – Dave Spadaro
- Correspondent II – Alex Smith
- Field Producer/Camera Operator I – Nick Rotondi
- Camera Operator II – Chris Barletto
- Offline Production (4)
- Content Manager – Jenn Terbosic
- Production Supervisor – Chris Johnson
- Editor I – Lauren Hight
- Editor II – Chris Malenich
- Total: 23
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