One of the major struggles with launching a sports-centric network is that programming can be difficult to manage. Fans won’t stay tuned in for endless loops of news updates, or for shows with several hosts discussing matchups. It isn’t sticky and advertisers aren’t exactly clamoring for this type of content. That is why the NFL is continuing to produce original programming to not only fill time slots, but to draw viewers to the NFL network.
“Northern Lights” will follow the Barrow High School Whalers on a journey through their football season. This won’t be like Friday Night Lights or MTV’s Two-A-Days because Barrow High School is located at the northern tip of Alaska, making it extremely difficult for travel. The documentary-style show provides the NFL network with something outside of NFL properties and it will be interesting to see if fans will be interested in this unique show.
The other original programming is along the lines of what NFL media is known to do well: documentary shows. There will be new “A Football Life” episodes as well as another documentary style show. Finally, the NFL is launching a one-hour special titled “Do Your Job: Bill Belichick and the 2014 Patriots” that will follow the team throughout last year’s Super Bowl Season. It will air Sept. 9, one day before the Patriots open against the Steelers — with or without Tom Brady. The NFL will also air “America’s Game: 2014 New England Patriots” on Sept. 8. That is a lot of programming for a team embroiled in a battle with the league office.
As more networks focus on sports and the leagues become involved with new media ventures, original programming is needed. This is a great way for a league such as the NFL to battle against counter-programming and content — such as HBO’s “Ballers” — that may paint football in a negative light. It will be interesting to see how successful “Northern Lights” becomes; the NFL — and other major leagues — seem to have the documentary-style content figured out. In any case there will be more than just news programming on the NFL in the coming months.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.