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Red Zone responds to the short attention span of millennials and changed the way we look at football

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For pious NFL fans, the sky glows red.

It comes alive every fall Sunday in a broadcast center in Marina del Rey, where Andrew Siciliano organizes the red zone of DirecTV, at the same time monitors every football match during the day and tells the most exciting and interesting moments.

Flanked by two on-stage researchers in headsets, Siciliano never stops pacing through the shiny black floor of the studio – a place the size of half a tennis court – and his eyes rarely wander off a wall of 10 high-definition screens showing the games. Red stage lights bathe everything in a ruby ​​red hue.

It's week 13 of the regular season, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the play-of-photo comes into the picture. There are eight games in the morning – none larger than San Francisco in Baltimore – and three in the afternoon, almost all with implications for the late season.

Red Zone shows two, three or even four screens at the same time, ideal for fantasy football and catering to an audience with an ever-decreasing attention span.

"We have raised a generation of young fans who are struggling to stand still for one game at a time," said Siciliano, 45. "We did not create America's short attention span, but we arrived at the right time."

Siciliano works together with Bill Wagner, the producer in his ear, to direct the show directly and to choose which games you want to watch at a certain moment. Siciliano rarely stumbles over names or statistics. When he does, he jokes about it as if he is sharing the living room couch with the viewers.

Sometimes he speaks as fast as an auctioneer and passes on information with the urgency of a quarterback with a two-minute offense. His irreverance often comes to the fore.

Andrew Siciliano on the set of NFL Red Zone on NFL Network in Culver City, Calif.

(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

Fed by an endless supply of coffee and chocolate cookies, he doesn't sit for seven hours until the last game of the day is over. He closes before the game starts on NBC on Sunday evening. On this Sunday, he has a plate of chicken and rice, but contacts Wagner every time he is about to take a bite to make sure there is enough time to chew. The work is really non-stop.

"If someone starts talking about the moment in the game, whether it's a wow game, a pivotal down, an important challenge, a coaching blunder, someone in a crazy costume in the stands … we want to show that, said Siciliano. “We want to show it as quickly as possible without missing anything else in the game.

"It is impossible, to be honest, with eight games. You're going to see things on tape. But the only thing we'll never do is show you something and pretend it's live."

There are actually two such channels, one launched by DirecTV in 2005 and an NFL Network version, NFL RedZone, hosted by Scott Hanson, which started four years later. Both have the same goal: football without fluff. No points unless they are blocked or run away for touchdowns. You don't have to wait for replay reviews. No commercials.

"I compare the job to Indiana Jones running over a suspension bridge, and the enemy cut one side of it and the bridge collapses behind him," said Hanson. "You cannot slow down. You cannot stop. You cannot turn your head back and wonder what is going on there. Because if you stop for a moment, you will be lost. It is an ongoing action. no matter what happens. And that's how it is for seven hours. "

Siciliano and Hanson, one-time classmates in Syracuse, are the NFL's response to air traffic controllers – and Hanson even uses the corresponding terminology.

Andrew Siciliano, host of the NFL Red Zone, discusses how he and the channel's production team approach football coverage every Sunday during the season while talking to Sam Farmer of the Times.

"We may have three touchdowns that take place in three other stadiums than what we're looking at, which is third and goal from the five-yard line," said Hanson. "We are so fond of:" We have to take that Cowboys touchdown off the runway. Must remove that Falcons touchdown from the runway. "We have to bring it to our target audience. We can't let them pile up, because the whole thing could come to a stop. "

The NFL refused to release the actual number of viewers in the red zone, except to say that the public comprises less than 10% of the total number of viewers. According to the census, more than 170 million people watched matches this season.

"What we see in the red zone is that, compared to viewers on a Sunday afternoon, it is a small number and has not grown substantially, which is great for us," said Brian Rolapp, CEO of NFL Network and the executive vice media president of the competition. "It is such a wonderful product that people who look at it talk religiously about it and love it."

Rather than being a threat to NFL broadcasting partners broadcasting games in a particular market, the red zone complements over-the-air games and offers viewers an alternative that keeps their attention on football.

"What is happening is that people are watching the games on their market, and if the game is not that good, they might be through it for years and years because there weren't many alternatives," he said. “Today you are a million clicks away from a million Netflix shows and YouTube and whatever you want. This gives them an alternative to watch more football and we like to keep them in the NFL ecosystem. "

The seeds for a channel with full coverage of the NFL were planted in the early 1990s, when Chase Carey and David Hill Fox Sports started. They wanted to find a way to integrate all games under one umbrella.

NFL Red Zone host Andrew Siciliano on set at NFL Network studios in Culver City, Calif.

NFL Red Zone host Andrew Siciliano on set at NFL Network studios in Culver City, Calif.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Eric Shanks was in Italy in 2001 setting up Sky Italia's sports networks for NewsCorp. Hill would travel regularly to check in, and found the way La Liga football matches on the radio were whiped up. So when Rupert Murdoch bought from NewsCorp DirecTV, which had all the games for "Sunday Ticket", it resulted in the inventory for the Red Zone Channel.

"One day David Hill came into my office and said," I have something for you. We're going to call it the Red Zone & # 39; & # 39 ;, recalls James Crittenden, a former Fox Sports producer who is now vice president of sports production at DirecTV's AT&T parent company. & # 39; I said: & # 39; Red zone? What is that? "He said," you'll find it out. "

And Crittenden did that. He and Siciliano have been working on the show since it was founded.

Siciliano starts its Sundays at 5.45 am, watching a few segments of NFL Network & # 39; s & # 39; Game Day Morning & # 39; and then leaves his Hermosa Beach home for Starbucks, where he orders a five-fold Americano and an oatmeal and hits the base with his parents in Virginia. He then goes to the studio for make-up and rehearsals for his introduction before the first games start.

Soon the action is underway.

"We arrived at the right time," he said. "We came by, because everyone got a smartphone and a tablet and can't focus on one thing. Every week I get fans and viewers who tweet at me and say: & # 39; We need more games. Two games aren't enough. Three games are not enough. "They need seven, eight, nine, 10, as many games as they can get. That's what we give them."

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