Round 1 coverage of the 2021 NFL Draft set a new ratings benchmark. Viewers all over the world tuned into proceedings in Cleveland on April 29, with an estimated average audience of 12.6 million viewers (TV + Digital) across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and digital channels. That number was up plus-11 percent compared to Round 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft (11.4 million).
With 12.6 million viewers, 2021 ranked as the second-highest Day 1 on record, surpassing 2014 (12.4 million) and behind only 2020 (15.5 million). Digitally, Round 1 delivered an AMA of 598K across NFL O&O, ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ABC platforms — up plus-54 percent vs. 2019 (389K).
All seven rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft were presented across ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network — the third straight year that The Walt Disney Company worked with the National Football League to offer a multi-network presentation of the Draft for all seven rounds.
Following 2020’s all-virtual affair, this year’s event was held across three days in Cleveland, Ohio, at three historic downtown locations: the FirstEnergy Stadium, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center. A select number of prospects, fans and media were permitted to attend. The draft’s main stage was located in the North Coast Harbor just outside of FirstEnergy Stadium against the backdrop of Lake Erie.
Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment (VWSE) Productions managed all aspects of the video production, on behalf of NFL Media. Van Wagner shared 120 feeds with NFL Media and ESPN through an IP gateway provided by Game Creek Video. “We made a decision early on to have Van Wagner handle the technical compound and bring in all those feeds,” NFL Media VP/Head of Media Operations Dave Shaw told Sports Video chief editor Jason Dachman.
“We learned from what we did last year and decided to create a central Technical Operations Centre [TOC], and we went to Van Wagner to build the infrastructure in Cleveland because they are handling the in-house production and were one of our three call centers last year. That gave us all the confidence in the world that they could handle it.”
How Team Draft Rooms Were Covered with Secure Protocols
All 32 NFL teams used the TVU Anywhere remote production app and TVU Grid, a cloud-based video distribution network, for footage of their Draft rooms during the three-day draft. Plus, TVU was tasked with supporting the live video feeds of 50 off-site player prospects for the broadcast production.
Top prospects who chose not to attend the draft in person were sent all-in-one camera kits that included a webcam, lighting, and a Mac mini preloaded with TVU Anywhere. The camera feeds were sent to a bank of 25 TVU Servers in Cleveland, which provided up to 50 SDI outputs for use during the live broadcasts. The servers were also networked through TVU Grid, allowing authorized personnel to monitor all live video feeds online, even on mobile devices, using the company’s TVU GridLink.
A separate bank of 17 TVU Servers (providing 34 SDI outputs) in Cleveland was assigned to manage behind-the-scenes video feeds from all 32 teams. The feeds provided live footage of team personnel as they reacted to draft picks and conducted business during the draft.
In contrast to the all-in-one camera kits for the prospects, each club was shipped an iPhone preloaded with TVU Anywhere that was positioned to provide coverage of the Draft room. All club feeds were also Grid-enabled, plus an SRT streaming output was provided for off-site monitoring and review.
The NFL leveraged the TVU Server ecosystems in a number of ways. TVU GridLink enabled remote monitoring of all the team Draft rooms for critical sponsor alignment via built-in access restrictions and secure sharing protocols. Plus, they created a comprehensive archive of all the content using TVU Search, an automated, AI-based solution that enables searchable archive. Unlike many archive solutions, though, TVU Search also enables the content to be searched, clipped and downloaded in real time, as the content is being captured.
“TVU’s solutions worked very well for us during the NFL Draft,” said Nate McCoart, director of technical operations, Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment. “They made it easy to manage live video from dozens of locations across the country for the broadcast, and they were able to manage secure Draft room feeds for both our production and NFL officials.”
During the NFL Draft, TVU also offered a free live shot of the front of the Draft location from a high vantage point for bumps and live intros for its TVU Grid customers. The footage was provided by WEWS, the local ABC affiliate.
Raising the Bar in Production Creativity and Quality
Ross Video’s Sports team worked alongside Van Wanger to support the event — marking the fourth year that Ross and Van Wanger have collaborated to drive the draft. Ross powered over twenty-five million pixels of LED displays within the outdoor draft theatre, with XPresseion Tessera and Carbonite Mosaic graphics rendering handling the bulk of the heavy lifting. The Ultrixrouting and AV processing platform took care of signal routing, while the control of the entire system was through the DashBoard platform from Ross.
“Ross has what we need to drive these large screens and understands how we and the NFL want to do this show,” said Bob Becker, EVP of Productions with Van Wagner. “When you’re working with Ross, it’s a huge weight lifted off of shoulders.”
For Kevin Cottam, Ross VP of Sports & Live Events, this year’s draft was another step forward, both in terms of creativity and the comeback of live events. “The league and Van Wagner continue to raise the bar when it comes to production creativity and quality, and it’s no surprise Van Wagner has become the ‘go to’ team for flagship events like the Super Bowl and NFL Draft.
“Once again, we are proud that Van Wagner has chosen Ross Solutions and services for the draft. We provide the tools and services personnel to get the job done with maximum creativity and efficiency, and we’re thrilled to be in Cleveland this year for the spectacular event,” said Cottam.