In 2020, the National Football League ushered in its rising stars like never before- literally, with its first-ever virtual NFL Draft. With Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment (VWSE) at the helm, the production team successfully created an exciting, dynamic event that proved to be the most-watched NFL Draft in history.
For this year’s 2021 NFL draft, Van Wagner embarked on a hybrid version, combining a spectacular live show in downtown Cleveland with live streaming feeds to connect those participating from afar.
This year’s event was another impressive win. Van Wagner and its partners demonstrated the agility and innovation necessary to rise to the occasion and elevate the event experience. Here’s how they did it.
Special Circumstances Around the Event
The NFL Draft is an annual highlight for football fans all over the world. Under normal circumstances, NFL Team player picks happen over three days, with a major concert performance each night and the NFL Draft Experience staged at the FirstEnergy Stadium nearby.
For an accomplished production company like VWSE, managing a “normal” NFL Draft live event would have been just another day at the office. And as technically challenging as last year’s virtual NFL Draft was, the company had acquired the know-how they needed to replicate the same approach with relative ease.
This new hybrid approach, however, added more challenges to the process and responsibilities for the crew. The sheer volume of elements involved required a whole new level of oversight and coordination. Plus, there were new logistical and technological hurdles that had to be tackled – delivering the live programming and streaming to a massive virtual audience while incorporating a large remote presence in a way that seemed natural and organic.
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How Did the Crew Handle These Responsibilities
Just like last year’s virtual NFL Draft, this year’s hybrid version will set another broadcasting precedent for the annual event. In theory, the hybrid approach might seem like an easy merging of the live and virtual production processes. But creating synergy between the shared experience of the live participants with the disjointed, unpredictable live streams of over 40 remote participants was unchartered territory for even the most seasoned of experts.
However, with the momentum of a successful Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four behind it (both in the same month), VWSE was ready to take on this new hybrid challenge with the same grit and determination they were known for.
VWSE had to coordinate four major areas in tandem:
- Contributing master skills in program management
- Visual design expertise
- Knowledge and implementation of the latest technologies
The first area involved generating entertainment and visual prompts for the large screens as well as the live stream. Second, the team had to coordinate communication and logistics between the league’s onsite participants and those who opted to participate from home.
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The third area involved building the technical foundation necessary to air the televised broadcast on all the major networks. Finally, the crews had to create the multi-sensory magic needed to highlight the star-studded concert lineup throughout the event.
Linking Offsite Individuals to Commissioner Goodell
Despite the thousands of miles separating off-site participants from the live event, production crews succeeded in creating a dynamic, unified experience that brought everyone in on the action.
To capture the Draft experience from every possible perspective and angle, organizers sent remote camera kits to all 48 prospects. The kit included a Panasonic PTZ camera that served two functions: an always-on camera to track the players’ experience before being selected and an interview camera for after the selection process. Kits were also sent to each of the 32 club facilities, including a Panasonic PTZ for live interviews with coaches and team managers and an iPhone to capture live footage in the team’s Draft rooms.
The handful of Clubs that had access to TVU hardware were also encouraged to film and share their streaming Draft room with the networks. The result was a dizzying but rich 117 live feeds going in and out of Cleveland through 94 dual receivers provided by TVU Network.
On-site, PRG Digital Designs loaded up the Broadcast Master Control Room with the necessary gear to feed all the major network screens, including ABC, ESPN, and the NFL. All networks were granted the freedom to mix up and air the footage as they saw fit.
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Power of LEDs
For this year’s event, the NFL wanted to create a theme around Cleveland’s rich music history in celebration of its Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. And as expected, the music line-up did not disappoint, including celebrated names like the Black Pumans and Kings of Leon.
To visually wow the 50,000 live fans attending the event while lighting up the screens of the millions viewing online, NWSE partnered with a team of visual and audio design experts that included over 105 on-site staff solely dedicated to dazzling the audience.
Again, PRG played a major role in illuminating the NFL’s vision, supporting all the lighting, rigging, video for the event, which included 20 LED displays consisting of over 25 million pixels. And by “displays,” we mean over 1,500 fixtures lit up by 30-year-old lights intentionally selected to emulate the look and feel of the Rock-n-Roll era in its prime.
All the graphics and animations included in the LED show were managed by another powerhouse of experts from Ross Video, and a separate full team of editors worked remotely to develop all the video board content.
It was a rockstar endeavor, to be sure, that did not disappoint.
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Van Wagner’s Success
Live events are a powerful way to garner excitement and inspire innovation among the best and brightest. Add an element of crisis to the mix (such as a global pandemic), and you will undoubtedly see the magic that happens when the brightest show up with their best game.
VWSE and its partners have always thrived in the face of challenges, and this year was no exception. Armed with their extensive knowledge base and experience, team members dug deep. They created ways to successfully incorporate the new and unfamiliar with the coveted traditions loyal fans tune in to experience every year.
In the end, the 2021 NFL Draft was the 3rd most-watched draft in the history of the NFL. Van Wanger and crew played a huge role in the event’s success, elevating an already impressive effort to a league of its own…one that might just go down in the hybrid hall of fame.
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