The NFL is a non-stop business. No one knows this better than the league’s Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy. From the regular season to this week’s draft, McCarthy is constantly busy promoting the NFL’s new initiatives and events. McCarthy spoke with The Big Lead about the potential of regular season games in Asia, the current and future status of streaming NFL games, and where the draft might be hosted in the future.
Brian Giuffra: Hi Brian. Thanks for carving out some time ahead of the NFL Draft. What are you looking forward to at this year’s draft and what should fans be looking forward to?
Brian McCarthy: There’s no question the draft has turned into such a major non-playing event for the NFL and fans. It’s become one of the most anticipated events of the year and at the very heart of it is what some people still refer to as a selection meeting. It brings together fans of all ages and all levels of football. We bring in 23 incoming prospects, players who will be hopefully drafted night 1 or in rounds 2 or 3. And then every single team believes they are getting better for the future. So it’s the excitement, it’s the rebirth of another year for fans and that’s exciting for everyone.
As we do for the Super Bowl, we have numerous community events throughout the area. We bring in legends and Hall of Famers and current players to participate in youth activities and community activities. We’ll have 64 former and current players making the announcement for their current teams, so that’s always exciting. And for those people in Nashville, it’s going to be a celebration of the game, the city and also the music and the energy that makes Nashville such a great place.
Giuffra: You mentioned Nashville, the draft has gone a lot of places, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, do you see every NFL franchise hosting the draft?
McCarthy: It’s become an event that’s very attractive to cities and clubs because they know the NFL throws a celebration unlike any other, they know there’s a real economic impact for the community — last year in Dallas set a record with about $125 million, topping the previous record when it was in Philly the year before, which was about $95 million. So there is true economic value of hosting and then think about the more than 2,000 media members who will descend upon Nashville and will be tasting and feeling and literally talking every moment about Nashville and the scene. So it’s become very attractive for clubs to want to host and they see the value and the excitement that a draft can bring. So that’s why it’s turned into an opportunity that we’ve actually laid out a plan for how cities are selected. Next year it will be in Las Vegas and there’s very competitive proposals from a number of cities that will host future events. So we’ll also have coming into Nashville next week 8-10 different clubs that will take a look at the activities and events with an eye toward how they can improve their ability to host future drafts.
Giuffra: Which franchise has taken the steps necessary to be the next in line to host the draft after Las Vegas?
McCarthy: Well, we’d like to be able to spread the event around to all 32 (franchises). Many of the Super Bowl-related cities will focus in on the Super Bowl and being able to host that. But we’re seeing opportunities for other cities as well. We have something called “expression of interest” where teams have to notify the league office that they would like to be considered for a future event and we’ve had more than 23 teams, I think is what we’re up to, who have expressed interest to host [the draft] over the next number of years. So you can go right across the league at teams that would be interested in hosting that are looking at hotel blocks and what is going on in their community. We probably wouldn’t want to pinpoint one area versus another, but having the ability to move it around, we did Chicago for two years, Philly right on the Rocky steps in 2017, and Dallas last year in the actual stadium, and Nashville this year and then Las Vegas right on the strip should be pretty exciting backdrop, opens it up.
Giuffra: What are the biggest challenges a city like Las Vegas poses in hosting a draft and eventually a team?
McCarthy: Well, we never look at anything as a challenge, it’s more of an opportunity. So how can you embrace the best of a city and translate that to an event that, once again, is a selection meeting. We have to make sure that the business of the draft takes place and can function. But then also turn it into an event. So likewise in Nashville, we’ll be right downtown, right with the honky-tonk bars and restaurants and establishments and play that up and turn it into our advantage and showcase that to our fans who will be on site and then will also be watching around the world. Likewise in Las Vegas, we’re going to use everything to our advantage and put on an event that only the NFL can do and only Las Vegas can do.
Giuffra: Let’s switch gears to the NFL schedule release. There was a lot of excitement around that. Did you plan it the week before the NFL Draft to get the excitement going again after a lull following the initial free agency frenzy?
McCarthy: You hit on the head. The NFL has really become much more than a series of games from September to early February. It’s become 24/7, 365. Fans have this insatiable desire for all things football. They can’t get enough of their team, their players. So many fans look at it as the playing season and the getting ready to play season. So we have these different events throughout the year that have really become anticipated events. The release of the schedule, there’s no action on the field, but it’s become an important day for the clubs, but most importantly for fans. The thing we’re always astounded at is the amount of excitement people have for it. We receive, in the weeks prior, calls from fans who want to book their weddings, their family reunions, in some cases surgeries for the fall. So they’ll plan their fall around the NFL schedule, which is a great testament for the passion they have for favorite teams and players. So we have fun, as do the teams, for the release of the schedule and the anticipation. In many instances, it’s a Christmas morning feeling of opening up your present and seeing where you’re going to be any given week.
Giuffra: The London games and Mexico City have become a big part of that NFL schedule release. There’s also been a lot of talk about the potential of NFL regular season games being played in Asia. What would be an over/under you would put in terms of a year when there might be an NFL game in Asia?
McCarthy: Always hesitant to put a date or a timetable on it. I know we’ve had members of our organization working with a number of different countries that would like to host. I think it represents the fandom that we do have and could continue to have. We’re always looking to build beyond the United States. Obviously we’ve been successful in Canada, and the affinity for football in Canada is well known. Likewise, the Mexico City game continues to be a highlight of the Mexican sporting calendar. And then we’ve had great success over in the UK. I believe with the exception of the Packers, all teams will have played a game over there after this season. And then we’ll look beyond Europe and then, as you mentioned, into Asia for potential opportunities.
Giuffra: What are the other countries that are actively pursuing hosting an NFL game?
McCarthy: There’s been interest from a wide number of countries on just about all contents around the world. We’ve had success with Australia and played a preseason game there. We’ve had a number of preseason games internationally from Japan, Germany and elsewhere. So we’ll continue to see where that may go. We’ve been generally asked about China from time to time, so that’s something we’re looking at as well. So we’re looking to expand football, certainly here in the U.S., but we think there’s ample opportunity to spread American football and the values we see it bring to so many people in the United States.
Giuffra: People consume football from so many different mediums now, both on TV and also streaming. Where are you with the AT&T and Direct TV streaming deals?
McCarthy: Still working on it. No real update on that front. And you’re right, fans consume the NFL in many ways. The best place to do it, as we say, is in the stadium. No players or fans can hear you screaming through your TV. But certainly, with the high def TVs and quality of these massive screens, it is fun to watch at home. We’re certainly well aware of changing demographics and want to make sure fans have football wherever they may be and on their terms. That’s why we’ve been at the forefront in terms of pushing technology and exploring ways to put our games on every device while recognizing the mass viewership still does come from TV.
Giuffra: Does the influx of illegal streams concern the NFL?
McCarthy: That’s been a constant throughout the evolution of media, from the days of pirating the old satellite dishes to where we are today. So that’s something we look at. We want to make sure fans are watching something that’s a quality experience and comes directly from the NFL or our partners. We think that’s the best way to do that. We know the NFL continues to be the most valuable programming so we like to protect the rights that we extend to our partners.
Giuffra: Are you considering an exclusive streaming partnership with a specific distributor?
McCarthy: We have a number of different opportunities, but I wouldn’t want to get into it at this point.
Giuffra: Ok, well thanks for your time Brian. And good luck with the draft.