• Loading stock data...
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

‘Light Knocks’: NFL Teams Like The Colts Creating Their Own Digital Docu-Series

With The Next Pick: Colts GM Chris Ballard on Draft Night. Photo Credit: Indianapolis Colts

The scene was a shell-shocked Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had just stunned the sports world by announcing his retirement at age 29. 

The video production team quickly sprang into action, shooting reaction interviews with head coach Frank Reich, general manager Chris Ballard, new starting QB Jacoby Brissett and T.Y. Hilton, Luck’s best friend after entering the league together in 2012. Those were all edited and then laid down on top of a track of foreboding music. 

The video cuts to the coach and GM trying to buoy the spirit of Colts fans by adopting a “Next Man Up” approach at training camp. “Everyone makes a unique contribution on this team. Yet everyone is replaceable,” Reich notes.

Was this HBO Sports shooting another edition of the Emmy Award-winning Hard Knocks? No. Instead, it was the team’s own in-house digital/video/audio platform telling the Horseshoe’s story from the inside out.  

“Affectionately we call ours Light Knocks,” said Roger VanDerSnick, the team’s chief sales, and marketing officer. “But our crew is embedded in training camp much like the HBO team is. I think you’ll see our stories maybe a little less sensationalized, a little more measured. A little more appropriate for the tone and approach of the Indianapolis Colts.”

As the NFL embarks on its historic 100th season, teams like the Colts are increasingly looking to tell their own stories as digital documentary film-makers.

Launched in April, the new Colts Productions has rolled out four original content series this year. Together, they’ve generated over 24 million impressions — and boosted the team’s YouTube subscribers by 40%. As a bonus, Bud Light and Xfinity have signed up as sponsors.

The four-part Behind the Colts training camp series is the most Hard Knocks-like. There’s also the five-part With the Next Pick, detailing the team’s journey to the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville. Plus Colts Life and Colts Forged, two episodic series that tell the personal stories of players like Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker.

No, the team hasn’t hired famous actors like Liev Schrieber to handle the narration ala HBO. There’s no Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders growling that he’s into “f—–g nightmares.” 

Today’s NFL fans want more access to players, coaches and front office execs across digital and audio platforms. This season, the Colts made a “strategic decision” to tell their story in a way that goes beyond the usual jargon, VanDerSnick said. 

“We really want to think about space as storytellers. If you get to our web site you’ll see long-form production that’s of very, very high quality. That goes behind the scenes of the training camp. That profile individual players. That talk about Deon Cain, who’s coming back this year from a pretty significant knee injury last year,” he said. “For us this is new. We’re really pleased with some of the results we’re seeing with our long-form content. It’s much, much different than talking about X’s and O’s.”

READ MORE: Eagles Take Flight With Podcasting Strategy

This kind of commitment doesn’t come cheap. To make Colts Productions a reality, the team had to hire 10 new staffers, including video expert Dave Knickerbocker, a former Chicago Blackhawks executive who came aboard as vice president of content and production a year ago. The Colts now boast a state of the art studio and production department. 

This year’s hiring spree nearly doubled the size of the Colts’ media operation, making it one of the largest in the state of Indiana. Trying to take an HBO or ESPN 30 for 30-like documentary film approach is no easy task. But given results so far, VanDerSnick thinks it’s working.

“It’s a little easier to do 60-second videos that talk about the Xs and Os in a game. But to really get into the meat of a story, and bring that to life about a player, about where they came from, what they’ve had to go through to get here, that takes a real commitment in terms of resources. And we’ve done that,” he said.

The Colts are not only NFL club ramping up their video storytelling. 

The Tennessee Titans, their competitors in the AFC South, are offering fans digital mini-series like Behind the Flame and Igniting the Fire

Over in the AFC West, the Raiders debuted a three-part series called More Than Rookies, which delves into the lives of the team’s first-year players as they don the Silver and Black.

“I think both sponsors and teams are trying to provide fans insight that’s non-traditional, that gives them some exposure to the club behind the curtain,” explained Ralph Ockenfels, the Titans’ vice president of corporate sponsorships. 

The tradition of the league, and its teams, doing their own documentary work goes back to Ed and Steve Sabol’s NFL Films in the 1960s, noted George Solomon, director of the University of Maryland’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. 

Think of those glorious, slow-motion shots of footballs spiraling through the fall skies. Not for nothing did Salon call NFL Films the greatest in-house PR machine in pro sports history. The Colts and other clubs are effectively setting up mini NFL Films units with their own organizations.

READ MORE: Exclusive: NFL Planning Business Partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation

What’s new are NFL teams effectively becoming “competitors” to traditional TV, radio and newspaper outlets, according to Solomon. 

“The teams have become their own media,” he said.

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Peter King Opens Up at the End of His Iconic Career

Iconic NFL writer reflects on the state of media, challenges facing the league.
Carolina Panthers

For Panthers, the Cost of a Two-Win Season Is a 4% Ticket Hike

Lower-level tickets are going up an average of 7%.
Ryan Clark

Tuned In: Ryan Clark Finalizing New Deal With ESPN

A pending contract could put him over $2 million per year, say sources.

Enough for Both? White Sox, Bears Ramp Up Push for Stadium Funds

MLB club begins to escalate its ask for taxpayer dollars.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Just How Bad Are the New MLB Uniforms?


Featured Today

The Victor Wembanyama Rookie Card Market Hasn’t Matched His Hype

A cooling market and Fanatics autograph deal leaves big-money collectors waiting.
February 25, 2024

Sham Gods: The Rapidly Growing World of Sports Impersonators on X

Fake Schefters and Wojs, fabricated trade demands, and borrowed profile pictures.
Sep 24, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; A general view of the Oakland Athletics dugout after the game against the Detroit Tigers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
February 24, 2024

Murky Future: Everything You Need to Know About the A’s Move to Las Vegas

Breaking down one of the most drawn-out, multifaceted sagas in sports.
February 18, 2024

Sabrina-Steph Wasn’t the ‘Battle of the Sexes’—But It Was Part of the Bigger War

The competition could play a factor in increasing the WNBA’s media value.


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Finance Manager
New York, NY
Senior Technical Artist - Sports Technology
EA Sports
Orlando, FL
Assistant Manager, Affiliate Operations
Portland, OR

DSG Takes Big Steps Toward Recovery, But Rights Questions Remain

Bankruptcy court approves refinancing plan, settlement of legal dispute.
Arizona Diamondbacks
February 23, 2024

Diamondbacks Heading Into Another Season With MLB in Charge of Media Rights

The D-Backs chose the league over getting their own over-the-air partners.
February 23, 2024

WBD Touts Streaming Profit, Sports Alliance While Stock Is Hammered

TNT Sports parent sees tough reaction from Wall Street to latest earnings.

Live Sports Are Now High-Tech Experiences

Oracle is leading the technology revolution happening in stadiums across the world.
Chad Powers
February 22, 2024

Tuned In: Hulu Turning Glen Powell Into Eli Manning With ‘Chad Powers’ Comedy

The ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ star will play the comedic QB Manning created for ESPN+.
A Bundesliga camera operator during a match
February 22, 2024

Fan Power in European Soccer Grows As German Football Deal Scuttled 

Weeks of increasingly strident protests lead to end of proposed private equity deal.
Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi following the victory against Los Angeles FC at BMO Stadium.
February 21, 2024

Lionel Messi Phenomenon Spurs Specialized Media Attention

Messi joins Taylor Swift and Beyoncé for celebrities to have their beat writer at ‘USA Today.’
FuboTV signage
February 21, 2024

FuboTV Lawsuit Against Sports Streaming Giants Likely Faces Uphill Climb

Legal and regulatory drama heightens around the high-profile streaming alliance.