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Xs and Os: Sky Sports Takes NFL to the Next Level With New Bespoke Studio

14/09/2021

Xs and Os: Sky Sports takes NFL to the next level with new bespoke studio By Michael Burns

Thursday, September 9, 2021 - 13:58

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This year Sky Sports NFL studio presentation, from Sky Studios in Osterley, is enhanced with a bespoke design

Sky Sports NFL has just returned for a second run, with the NFL launching its biggest-ever regular season. This time around, Sky Sports has gone all-out for British fans with a new, expanded studio to provide even more visual excitement alongside in-depth analysis of this well-padded sport.

The satellite pay-TV channel is covering the expanded 102nd season (18 weeks) right up to Super Bowl LVI at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on 13 February. All 32 teams are playing 17 games in their attempt to make the playoffs in the most popular sports league in the US.

Although Sky has been a partner of the NFL for 26 consecutive years, last summer saw the launch of the first ever dedicated NFL channel outside of the US as part of the renewal of the partnership; from September until February, Sky Sports Action becomes Sky Sports NFL and just carries NFL content.

We carry at least five hours of original programming every day, says Alex Mason, senior producer at Sky Sports. Sky is part of the ComCast family, so we take some magazine shows from NBC; we take ProFootballTalk every weekday, while from NFL Network, we take their Good Morning Football shows, six days a week. We also take NFL GameDay Morning magazine programming around the live game.

The NFL usually schedules games in five time slots during the week. While two games tend to take place on a Sunday afternoon, there are also generally evening games scheduled on a Sunday, Thursday and Monday, broadcast by different US networks across the games.

We take the American coverage of all the live games, but we have our own studio presentation around the Sunday games, from 5pm until we hand over to NBC's Sunday Night Football in America at 1.30am, says Mason. Obviously games that kick off at 6pm and at 9.25pm [in UK time] sit very well on a Sunday night, as that's primetime for us.

Neil Reynolds is the host of the live coverage, providing analysis alongside a guest analyst, while Hannah Wilkes and Josh Denzel present the Overtime show on Thursdays.

Xs and Os

This year the studio presentation, from Sky Studios in Osterley, is enhanced with a bespoke design. We have more floor space than before to do demos and have a more dynamic and active presentation, with what looks like an NFL pitch on the floor, as well as a brilliant video wall to engage with our remote contributors, says Mason. It's a relatively standard studio set up, but I think what's really important is the return of the jib camera. We can show off all the different floor space that we have and we can set the guys in different areas. The flexibility of the video wall, the ability to have remote contributors in there is something we're really going to try and experiment with this year.

We've still got the touchscreen area, so we can still break down the Xs and Os [playing formations], to explain the plays and stuff like that, but our focus is on the remote contributor being as important as the in-studio guests. This is a core offering for us, he continues. When I started in this role on [Sky Sports] NFL about five years ago I became acutely aware of the challenges from a resource point of view of getting [US star guests and pundits] of a high enough calibre to come to the UK to be part of the broadcast. In the NFL world, our budget isn't the same as the US broadcasters.

The flexibility of the video wall, the ability to have remote contributors in there is something we're really going to try and experiment with this year

The solution came via the pandemic, when Sky Sports turned to remote production to cope with the challenges of lockdown.

The technical guys in Sky Production Services [SPS] utilised vMix, and that's how we were able to make shows remotely, says Mason. I had the experience of producing live shows from my kitchen at home, and it all successfully went to air so that was kind of a new way of working. I asked the guys at Sky if we could incorporate that as a way of engaging remote guests.

Historically we used Skype or Zoom, but with that we have extra steps in the workflow and so we involve other departments, he adds. I felt we could do it in a more self-contained manner, incorporating vMix into our live broadcast.

Inside Sky Sports' new studio for NFL coverage

The video wall was first used last week on Thursday's NFL 32 Live season preview show.

We had a really nice moment last Thursday where we had Neil on camera left and then three contributors in the video wall behind him, he adds. It lent itself to a really nice flowing conversation.

The NFL 32 Live show saw Reynolds on his own in the studio, linking in and out of about 65 prerecorded VTs and having 10 to 12 contributors join remotely. Neil was able to host the four-hour live show, speaking on over 100 topics, and he did it seamlessly and flawlessly, says Mason. So [viewers got] an in-depth, three to four minute conversation about all 32 teams, and then storylines within the teams.

The US contributors working with Reynolds, who is arguably a co-producer with me , adds Mason, are all big names in the NFL world. Nora Princiotti, our new contributor, is former beat writer for the Patriots, says Mason. Peter King contributes to our show on a Sunday and we take pieces of his Football Morning in America column every Monday to publicise it. Our old friend and stalwart of the show Jeff Reinebold comes over after Thanksgiving onwards.

We've also got Will Blackman coming over. He's a former Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants, now an up and coming broadcaster after a
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