Scott Hanson on How NFL RedZone Changed Watching Football

    • “Like watching football when God is holding the remote control,” Hanson said
    • Hanson is poised to become a TV free agent in 2021.

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Way back in 2009, host Scott Hanson said during the premiere episode of NFL Network’s RedZone that he hoped it would change the way they “watch football forever.” 

Over the last 11-plus years, NFL RedZone’s live, whiparound coverage has accomplished just that. 

Hanson has become a sports media star in the process, hosting all 200-plus episodes and becoming a sought-after celebrity on Cameo, where he’s shot hundreds of fan videos for $150.

The 49-year-old Hanson played college football for the Syracuse Orange. He’s led an Ernest Hemingway-esque life off-camera, running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and cage diving with great white sharks in Australia and Mexico. 

A devout Christian, he’s volunteered with Christian charities in Africa, India and the Amazon Jungle. 

Front Office Sports asked Hanson about his past, present and future at NFL Network, and how important NFL RedZone is to the network’s brand and distribution. Excerpts:

Front Office Sports: Congrats on hosting 200 editions of NFL RedZone — and counting. 

Scott Hanson: Part of me thinks, ‘time flies.’ Part of me thinks, ‘Wow, what a long, long journey.’ When we started it, I really did think this could be a huge hit. And that’s one of the reasons why I said in the very first on-camera opening, ‘Welcome to the first moments of the channel that we hope changes the way you watch football forever.’ Because I felt that it could do that. And there hasn’t been a week that’s gone by in the 11-plus seasons that fans haven’t told me, ‘NFL RedZone changed the way I watch football.’ So it’s very gratifying, to be honest, very gratifying. 

FOS: RedZone has been replicated by other networks, leagues and sports. But never duplicated. Why? 

SH: I would say this: Other channels have attempted to duplicate NFL RedZone, but I’m not sure that anyone has quite gotten there. That’s not to deprecate any other broadcasting efforts. But there are a few elements that make NFL RedZone unique.

First and foremost, there’s the popularity of the NFL. There will be more attention and more eyeballs on NFL RedZone than there would be on NBA RedZone, MLB RedZone and NHL RedZone combined. 

Two, the nature of pro football, whether it’s the synchronization of the schedule, where we’ve got seven, eight or nine games kicking off within seconds of each other, allows for an overlap flow that is very appealing when it’s produced well.

Another aspect of NFL RedZone which makes it uniquely watchable is the 40-second play clock during NFL games. We see a 10-yard run and that lasts for six seconds. We know after that play, we have roughly 40 seconds to get back to that game before we can’t miss the action. Well, that 40 seconds allows us to sneak in one or two more plays from other stadiums. You can’t do that in basketball. You can’t do that in hockey. You can’t do that. Not without freezing time — and then missing something live — because you don’t know when the moment is going to happen there. 

With the rhythm of an NFL game, you do know, ‘OK, first-and-10 in Dallas, we’ve got 40 seconds before we’ve got to get back to AT&T Stadium.’ Let’s go to Lambeau Field, right? Let’s check out what’s going on in Atlanta. Let’s check out what’s happening in Gillette Stadium for one play.

Scott Hanson of NFL RedZone Could Become TV Free Agent

Scott Hanson, popular host of NFL Network’s NFL RedZone channel, could become a TV free agent. His current one-year deal expires this summer.

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FOS: Then all these simultaneous games build to a crescendo.

SH: The fourth quarter of eight NFL games simultaneously is a thrill ride unlike anything else in the sports world, I believe. I think fans agree. We’ve dubbed it ‘The Witching Hour.’ No one gets up and goes and gets a snack during the witching hour. No one gets up and uses the restroom during the witching hour. Because there are guaranteed to be moments when an NFL team is winning a game and then, snap of a fingers, they’re losing the game, and it happens during that hour and it’s absolutely compelling television. Hopefully we produce it in a way that is enjoyable to the millions that watch.

FOS: You mean like the Las Vegas Raiders beating the New York Jets on that ridiculous last-second play?

SH: Those types of finishes are the type of finishes that make NFL RedZone the perfect application for people who love sports action. Because you will see it as it happens, no matter where it happens, in the football universe. You’ll see it live on NFL RedZone. And then you’ll be tweeting and talking and texting to your friends about it for the rest of the week.

FOS: Let’s talk about NFL RedZone’s loyal viewers. As one of the public faces of the league, what do they tell you about the channel? 

SH: The fan response has been overwhelmingly positive. Even on social media, which skews 90% negative, the reaction I get, and the reaction NFL RedZone gets, is positive. Even more than positive, fans try to create new adjectives and descriptions to communicate their pleasure with NFL RedZone.

I don’t know if I should say this, but people have told me they could go without sex on Sunday — but they couldn’t go without NFL RedZone. People have tweeted me different iterations of, ‘Sex is great. But have you ever tried NFL RedZone?’ … Fans have told me if their TV only had one channel, they’d be happy if it was just NFL RedZone. No other channel on their entire TV. And the average fan has 800 channels at their disposal.

Many, many people tell me they won’t watch the NFL any other way. Actually, no, let me put it this way. Many people have told me when their favorite team is not playing, NFL RedZone is the only way they watch football. They’ll watch their favorite team, every snap of that game. But when their team is not playing, they’re watching NFL Red Zone. So the response has been overwhelmingly positive, wonderfully positive. Someone once said, NFL RedZone is like watching football when God is holding the remote control.

FOS: Is there a fascination with how your show is produced? There’s a Wizard of Oz-type quality to it, no?

SH: We always cut to the right games at the right time. We’re always on the most dramatic moments in the fourth quarter, even as we’re juggling seven, eight, nine games simultaneously, and there might be five teams in a two-minute drill trying to score the game-winning touchdown. If you trust us, which you should, we’ll get you to the right spot, at the right time. I think fans do marvel at some aspects of NFL RedZone like the ‘OctoBox.’ 

Most people think it’s beautiful. Of course, that’s when we show 8 games at one time. When the graphic comes up to show the witching hour, or when I say ‘Seven Hours of Commercial-Free Football Starts Now,’ people tell me they have a Pavlovian response. 

FOS: Give me an example?

SH: I live in LA. It was the offseason, a year or two ago. I had a guy in the supermarket parking lot recognize me from two cars over. He yells, ‘Give it to me Scott!’ I’m like, ‘Why is this guy yelling at me?’

I look over. We make eye contact — and I could tell exactly what he wanted. So I looked at him and said, ‘Seven Hours of Commercial-Free Football Starts Now.’ He threw his hands in the air like he’d just won the Super Bowl itself and yelled, ‘Yes! YES!’

And this was in the summer, before football season even started. So that’s the type of fan reaction that we get and it’s a thrill. It’s fun. We’re in a public industry. It is so gratifying that the public reacts as wonderfully they do about NFL RedZone.

FOS: You should film videos for NFL RedZone fans on Cameo. You’d make a fortune.

SH: I do. I’ve made quite a bit of money on Cameo this year … I’ve got about 10 [requests] sitting in my inbox right now, especially with Christmas, the holidays and the end of the football season approaching. … It’s people wanting me to say, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s The Witching Hour.’ Or ‘Are you ready for the OctoBox?’ Or  ‘Seven Hours of Commercial-Free Football, Starts Now.’

I had one guy hit me up to ask me to ask his best friend to be the best man at his wedding. I’ve been asked to contribute to the wedding toast by a best man or a maid of honor. On Cameo, I’ve been asked to make a video for the bride and groom. They play it during the wedding reception because [the couple] loves NFL RedZone so much.

A guy just hit me up. I’m trying to work with him to figure out how to do it. He’s going to propose to his girlfriend through a Cameo video. I’ve done them to Germany, Sweden, Australia. It’s a phenomenon, it really is. The popularity of NFL RedZone is a phenomenon.

FOS: How do you stay on the air seven hours straight, without eating, and no commercial breaks?

SH: I have a pretty good amount of energy. I don’t drink coffee. So what you see on the air is non-caffeinated. I love the game and I love our audience, and the game is in front of me and I get to present it to the audience. I’m going to give everything I’ve got for seven straight hours. It is mentally exhausting and even physically taxing. But I keep myself in pretty good shape. I dehydrate myself to avoid any unnecessary trips out of the studio…

I could eat something, but I just don’t want to get caught with a mouth full of food. And all of a sudden I’ve got to do an update on [Dallas Cowboys running back] Ezekiel Elliott scoring.  Which has happened before, by the way. When I used to eat in-studio, I would take a bite of a sandwich and my producer would go, [former Cowboys quarterback] ‘Tony Romo just hit Dez Bryant for a 50-yard touchdown. We’re doing it next.’ I’m like, ‘I’ve got a hunk of turkey on wheat in my mouth.’  So I stopped eating. I have a huge breakfast — and then I just power through.

FOS: Is your Sunday breakfast old-school gridiron? Like Jerry Kramer of the [Green Bay] Packers eating steak and eggs before Super Bowl I? 

SH: It’s a turkey burger patty, a double thick turkey burger patty, scrambled egg whites, a big blueberry muffin, a bowl of mixed fruit. And this is one of the secret ingredients, a side dish of Kalamata olives. They’re very salty and I put them on the eggs because the salt helps me absorb water and keeps me dry for seven straight hours. And that’s why my bathroom break streak is what it is. 

FOS: You’ve said you don’t even take bathroom breaks during a seven-hour show. C’mon. Really? 

SH: I don’t. I have taken one bathroom break in the last, probably, decade. True story. There are witnesses that I don’t leave the studio. 

FOS: How important has fantasy football and sports betting been to the growth of the show since 2009?

SH: They’re huge drivers to our audience. I don’t have empirical data on that, but it stands to reason that if you’re a fantasy football player, or you put a couple of shekels on the game, or on games, that you can’t just watch one game. To have that action, that information, that entertainment, you need to watch every game.  And NFL RedZone is the perfect place to do that.

There’s also what I call the ‘PTI-ization’ of the American sports fan [referring to the weekday ESPN sports talk show ‘Pardon the Interruption’ co-starring Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon]. Everybody loves to argue about sports. Everybody has a hot take — and the NFL is the most popular sport in the country. So everybody’s hot takes have to be the hottest about the NFL. 

Well, you can’t have a real good insightful argument, or discussion with your buddy, your brother, your dad, your colleague, your fellow NFL fan, unless you’ve considered all the different angles. And you can’t consider all the different angles until you’ve watched all the different angles. And where are you going to do that? You’re going to do that through NFL RedZone. …

We live in a microwave society. People want it now. They don’t want to wait three hours for a highlight show. They don’t want to wait to see it posted somewhere after the fact. They want it live. And that’s what we do. 

FOS: As more U.S. states legalize sports betting, will that drive increased viewing?  

SH: It’s obvious that sports gambling is evolving in our country. We still have to wait and see how that impacts sports broadcasts, the coverage of games, the way we discuss the most popular sports in our country. So I can’t give you a firm answer. I think I know which way the wind is blowing. But we’ll still take it one season at a time. 

FOS: Do you want to stay with NFL Network? Or see if the grass is greener somewhere else? 

SH: I love the NFL. The NFL has been very good to me. And I hope I have been very good for the NFL. My hope would be to continue. 

FOS: Bottom line: How important is RedZone to the NFL Network brand — and its distribution power with cable operators?

SH: That’s a great question … I’ve heard it said there are two indispensable properties for NFL Media: ‘Thursday Night Football’ and NFL RedZone. I would not necessarily disagree with that.