According to an article in the current issue of SMARTMEDIA Magazine, Matt Marantz, ESPN's WSOP producer, is taking over as executive producer of ESPN/ABC's football broadcasts. He intends to adopt the poker broadcasting model for football games. The shows will be shorter, edited broadcasts concentrating on the most interesting plays, with more human interest segments. A few excerpts from the interview are below.
Marantz had been lobbying ESPN's upper management for the position for a while:
I convinced them that football's stagnant ratings weren't out of their control. Poker ratings have boomed since 2003 because we have a better broadcast model. They decided to give me a shot. I believe we'll see the same sort of ratings increases for football as we did with poker as soon as I'm able to implement the new techniques.
Basically, we have to start appealing to the mass audience. They've left that audience on the table in the past. It seems like the producers are football people and they've been making the show for people like themselves. But most people aren't into football. Have you ever seen football's ratings among women? If we just got a significant percentage of them to watch, ratings would soar. We have to start appealing to the people who aren't interested in football, and who currently skip by the channel when they see a football game on.
Marantz plans on adding comedy and human interest elements to broaden the shows' appeal:
In the broadcast booth I'd like to pair a world-class comedian like Robin Williams with someone who understands football and can explain it in simple terms to those that don't.
We'll be adding a lot of human interest segments. I want to do tours of the players homes, conducted by the wives. That would be great for the female demographic. If we can find players with cancer or other diseases, our viewers will eat that up. Generally, we'll add a lot more interviews with players. Also, I want to mike up the players on the field and perhaps add helmet-cams. I want to find rivalries between players and follow them during the games. It's the people that will make it interesting, not the football.
The shows will be much shorter, concentrating on the highlights:
We'll dedicate a one-hour show to each game. I can barely sit through the three-hour-plus games now. Most plays in football are boring, so we'll leave them out. And why do we have to show players mulling around pre-snap? We don't. We don't even have to show the entire field. Or the whole play. I just want to see the quarterback throwing the ball and the receiver catching it. Or maybe just the receiver catching it. That will save more time for non-football content, which appeals to the mass market. I'd like to have about one human-interest segment and a few plays per drive. If we keep on showing boring plays no one's ever going to learn about the game, become involved in the drama, become a fan, and tune in again.
Marantz doesn't think the current format of football games is ideal, and wants to experiment with changes:
Made-for-TV invitational events would be a lot cheaper to film and have greater star power, which is what people want to see. But I've run into a lot of resistance on this front. I did get approval to make a pilot of my idea at least. I'll pit the top quarterbacks against each other. Maybe Tom Brady versus Payton Manning. They'd each get one star running back and two star receivers to play with them. We'd air each match in a half hour. I'm sure when people see it they'll be more open to changing the format of all the games.