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Hard Knocks Director: NFL Films Has Built Trust With Teams

“The league is constantly trying to figure out what teams are good fits for different projects and different shows.”

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Hard Knocks Dolphins
Courtesy: National Football League, Warner Bros. Discovery

HBO Sports and NFL Films will premiere the first episode of the in-season edition of Hard Knocks with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday night at 9 PM ET on HBO and will be available to stream on Max. New episodes of the acclaimed, 18-time Emmy award-winning series will debut on Tuesday through January 9th and then on each Tuesday during the team’s potential postseason run.

Ahead of the team’s Black Friday matchup against the New York Jets, 560 WQAM morning host Joe Rose asked NFL Films producer and director Steve Trout about the process the league went through in securing the Dolphins for the series.

“The league is constantly trying to figure out what teams are good fits for different projects and different shows,” Trout said. “I’m not exactly sure how that all went down, but once it was decided, the Dolphins have been open-arms [in] welcoming us…. You get organizations that [are] transparent and they’re okay with showing what’s happening because I think it’s very clear they believe in what’s happening.”

The New York Jets appeared on the training camp edition of the show, which drew considerable interest and intrigue pertaining to the mystique surrounding new quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Throughout the program, Jets fans became accustomed to Rodgers and the impact he was having on the team, along with meetings between players and coaches and how they go about player development.

The team lost Rodgers to an Achilles injury on its first offensive drive of the season, but the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player is trying to expedite his return to the field, perhaps during this season. Whereas the Jets’ edition of Hard Knocks took place in training camp and the preseason, the Dolphins are in the midst of contending for the Super Bowl and taking part in a similar, but modified production.

“The August Hard Knocks is really six to eight times bigger than what we have here,” Trout said. “We’ve got to keep it small because we’re here for so much longer. I think what we’ve mastered over our 20 years of this is blending into the background and being the fly on the wall, and the model for this in-season has to be that way because you’re coming in – the plane’s already in flight – and so you’ve really got to make yourself small, yet still capture all that genuine gold if you will.”

Rose remarked that the Dolphins team has felt like a fun group to follow throughout the season, a sentiment Trout backed by avouching that he cannot discern any change in demeanor or actions just because of the presence of cameras. For HBO Sports and NFL Films, that is a fundamental aspect of the production every time the company brings cameras around an organization, and the Dolphins have been, to Trout, among the most genuine to appear on the program.

“Maybe people watch on a Sunday for three hours and they’re under a helmet and they’re football players,” Trout said. “Our goal is to make them dads and husbands and sons and friends, and so I think you’re going to see that tonight.”

When the Jets were on the program before the season, there were reports that the team was limiting access to meetings where players were cut from the group ahead of the season. Because of this, Hard Knocks displayed these difficult moments utilizing different forms of storytelling and shot selections based on their inventory. The Dolphins do not seem to be limiting access to their team, nor is the team selectively removing parts of episodes beforehand unless they contain proprietary information that could influence competitive balance, such as play calls.

“I think the reason, Joe, that NFL Films is able to do it is because of the trust; because teams trust us more than the FOXs or the ESPNs or the CBSs of the world,” Rose said. “They’re not watching the show to pick out scenes…. We’re just trying to tell a story, and they allow us to do that and tell the story because of that trust, and I think that’s been built up over the years.”

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‘Hard Knocks’ to Feature AFC North Division for In-Season Edition

“We are ecstatic to expand the ‘Hard Knocks’ universe with our partners at NFL Films to the always thrilling AFC North division race.”

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Hard Knocks AFC North
Courtesy: HBO, NFL Films

HBO and NFL Films have announced that Hard Knocks will spotlight the AFC North in its first in-season edition following an entire division. The 18-time Emmy Award-winning series will feature the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, documenting their journeys during the final six weeks of the NFL regular season and subsequent playoff run for the division champion and teams that qualify in the Wild Card.

Among the athletes within the series are quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, along with other stars such as Derrick Henry, Ja’Marr Chase, Myles Garrett and TJ Watt. This new iteration of the series will take the air on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 9 p.m. EST/PST on HBO and available to stream on Max. New episodes of the series will be available to watch on Tuesdays through the end of the NFL regular season and continue into the NFL Playoffs.

“Last season the AFC North became the first division ever to have all four teams finish with a winning record, making it the perfect place to launch this new approach to ‘Hard Knocks,’” Keith Cossrow, vice president and head of content for NFL Films, said in a statement. “We thank the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers for the opportunity to showcase some of the greatest rivalries in football and present the intensity of a playoff chase from all four corners of this incredibly competitive division.”

The Ravens were the first team featured on Hard Knocks when the training camp series first premiered in 2001. In the summer of 2009, the Bengals debuted on the program and reappeared in the 2013 edition as well. The Browns were on the show in 2018, while the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to be making the first appearance in the history of the organization. Last season, the Ravens won the division for the first time in four years after the Bengals had secured the division crown in the previous two seasons.

The in-season edition of Hard Knocks spanning an entire division officially renders the series into a venture with coverage of all facets of the NFL season – the offseason, training camp, regular season and the playoffs. HBO and NFL Films announced last month that the New York Giants would be part of the new offseason edition of the show debuting on Tuesday, July 2. Following the conclusion of that series, the training camp edition of the show will return with the Chicago Bears premiering on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

“We are ecstatic to expand the ‘Hard Knocks’ universe with our partners at NFL Films to the always thrilling AFC North division race,” Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller, co-executive vice presidents of documentary and family programming at HBO, along with Bentley Weiner, vice president of sports documentaries at HBO, said in a statement. “In 2024, ‘Hard Knocks’ will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the Chicago Bears. What a year it will be on HBO and Max for football fans everywhere.”

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NHL Stanley Cup Final Game 4 Averages 3.1 Million Viewers on ESPN Networks

Through its first four games, the Stanley Cup Final is averaging 3.3 million total viewers, which is up 11% from last year’s matchup.

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ESPN on ABC
Courtesy: The Walt Disney Company

The Stanley Cup Final has extended to another game after the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Florida Panthers on Saturday night to attain its first win of the series. While Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Stuart Skinner seek to keep the Oilers’ season alive on Tuesday night, the Panthers aim to close out the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. The Panthers, however, will need to overcome giving up eight unanswered goals to the Oilers in Game 4 in order to achieve that task.

The Game 4 win-or-go-home matchup averaged 3.1 million viewers on ABC, according to Nielsen Media Research, which is up 20% from the comparable game last year. ESPN’s broadcast of the Stanley Cup Final on ABC peaked at 3.52 million viewers and attained a 1.4 rating, the latter of which is up 15% from last year’s Stanley Cup Final Game 4 between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights televised on TNT, TBS and truTV.

Although the game elicited year-over-year gains, viewership is down 33% from the last Stanley Cup Final Game 4 on ABC, which was a matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning in 2022. Moreover, the rating declined by a full share from the 2.4 share the matchup garnered last year. The fourth game of this year’s series is down from Game 2, which averaged 3.56 million viewers with a 1.9 rating, along with the 3.35 million viewers and 1.8 rating for the third game, according to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch.

Through its first four games, the Stanley Cup Final is averaging 3.3 million total viewers, which is up 11% from last year’s matchup in this regard. An average of 1.2 million viewers within the Persons 18-49 demographic are watching the Stanley Cup Final, a 25% year-over-year increase as well. Viewers within the Persons 18-49 demographic equated to an average of 1.1 million for Game 4, representative of a 20% year-over-year increase.

The Stanley Cup Finals on ESPN platforms have averaged 1.6 million total viewers and 633,000 viewers within the Persons 18-49 demographic, a year-over-year increase of 38% and 28% in those categories, respectively. The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC) is nearing the conclusion of its third season of NHL broadcasts since reacquiring broadcast rights to the league and will have four more seasons to go on its current seven-year media rights deal.

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Tom Brady Makes FOX Sports Broadcast Booth Debut

“I can’t go down there on the field anymore, what are you talking about?”

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Screengrab from the UFL Championship game on FOX with Curt Menefee, Tom Brady and Joel Klatt
Screengrab: UFL Championship Game on FOX

If Spring Football gave us anything, it gave us this. Let the record show that the first time Tom Brady analyzed a pro football game from a broadcasting booth as an employee of FOX Sports, it was with teams from Birmingham and San Antonio, with the game being played in St. Louis.

That may someday be a trivia question hardly anyone will be able to answer. For now, it just marks the debut of Brady’s time as a football analyst as part of his 10-year $375 million deal he signed with FOX. Brady was not officially on the call of the UFL Championship game, but he did join play-by-play man Curt Menefee and analyst Joel Klatt in the second quarter on Sunday when the Birmingham Stallions beat the San Antonio Brahmas 25-0 at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis

“We bring in a little instant offense,” Menefee said. “You know him, you love him. Tom Brady, legendary quarterback, just had his number retired.”

“I can’t go down there on the field anymore, what are you talking about?” Brady quipped.

“He is joining us here at FOX sports as I am sure you have heard as an analyst this fall, can’t wait to see him,” Menefee said before asking Brady for his take on what he had seen in the UFL game. “So far, what are your impressions in this early going Championship game, sometimes teams can be a little bit tight, it looks like it may be right here.”

“They’re all a little different when you get into these games,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of defense out there right now. You see the defense out there playing with a lot of energy but someone’s gotta get the ball down the field and try and open this field up a little bit. It’s a lot of horizontal passes and the defense is swarming and trying to punch the ball out. ‘Make them defend every blade of grass,’ that’s what we used to say.’

At the conclusion of the game, Brady was on the field to present the championship game MVP award which went to Birmingham quarterback Adrian Martinez who played for both Nebraska and Kansas State and was the league’s regular season MVP.

Brady is set to work with Kevin Burkhardt this fall on the FOX No. 1 broadcast team. The pair will call the top game for FOX each week starting with the September 8 game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns.

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