The big game in Atlanta is just a few days away, and we are busy cooking up chilis, stews and wing marinades for what is likely to be an epic showdown between two amazing teams.
When it comes to visual storytelling, NFL teams have been at the forefront of sharing their stories with fans faster and easier than ever before. More and more teams are embracing a real-time workflow, engaging their fans with a thumb-stopping photo just seconds after a touchdown.
Let’s take a closer look at how professional football teams capture historic moments and wow fans with thumb-stopping visual content.
While the New York Jets may not have achieved the success they wanted to on the field this season, their off-the-field visual storytelling was game changing.
The Jets’ social media channels are a perfect storm of a unique perspective, the right timing, and eye-catching imagery fans actually want in their feeds.
Lead Photographer and Cinematographer Dan Szpakowski works full-time in-house, so he has a deep understanding of the team’s stories and point of view. He reports to the social team, creating a direct line between photography and social media. He shoots as a documentary photographer, capturing everything from game action to quiet moments fans rarely get to see.
Those moments – the ones fan rarely get to see – can be the most powerful and poignant moments for a team to capture and share on social media. Kansas City Chiefs Photographer Steve Sanders shared this iconic image of safety Eric Berry, taken on September 17, 2015, returning to the field after his battle with Non-Hodgkins’ Lymphoma.
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What is so striking about these images is how important ‘off the field of play’ moments are to an organization, their fans and team morale. The teams may have a mentality of “on to the next game,” but images live on to define an era, a feeling, or even simpler, an important moment.
All the way back in the 2017 pre-season, Los Angeles Rams photographer Daniel Bowyer captured this shot of two young players, quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley, exchanging words during a pregame routine. Now, a year and a half later, these two will be playing in the biggest game of their lives, and this throwback photo captures where their teamwork all began.
Scott Kegley, Executive Director of Digital Media and Innovation for the Minnesota Vikings, expanded on capturing these unique storytelling moments when we caught up with him at the Sports Fan Engagement Conference, saying:
“Good content is good content. Whether you’re doing a 6 second video or a 30 minute feature length show, whether it’s a live stream on Facebook or Periscope – if you treat all content like it’s going on ESPN’s 30 for 30, that’s gonna do you a lot of good in the long run.”
Meanwhile, Miami Dolphins Social Media Manager Vince Pannozzo focused on capturing those moments on video to use specifically on social media.
“We go social first on any type of content that we create, especially video,” said Vince, noting that social media is the best way to meet the brand’s goals of creating new fans, engaging new fans, creating sponsorable franchises and generating leads.
“Instead of buying TV and radio ads, we bought music rights to help us better tell our story,” Vince said. “Part of it was just focusing on particular moments and using songs that wouldn’t normally be associated with football.”
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) January 12, 2017
And then you have the Baltimore Ravens, who transformed the way they access and share content after Super Bowl XLVII. When the Ravens went to New Orleans for the big game, Digital Media Coordinator Erin Herbert tried to be prepared by putting photos on a portable hard drive. But when she started getting image requests from media and partners, she realized she didn’t have everything she needed, and they missed opportunities to tell their story.
Moving the team’s archive to a cloud-based visual media library not only helped the team feel prepared for away games (and potentially another Super Bowl), but also helped streamline the Ravens’ entire visual storytelling strategy.
For Denver Broncos Social Media Coordinator Scott Ward, inspiration is key. We asked him to share a few brands that inspire him the most:
“I like accounts that don’t take themselves too seriously and provide value to their followers’ timelines. Sometimes teams can take this approach too far — I think some teams don’t take themselves seriously or professionally enough, or hold themselves to a high enough standard — and we try to be cognizant of that, with an aim to never embarrass our owner, GM, brand or fan base.
I like the @Indians a lot because of this. They do a great job of “being a person,” while also never “stepping in it.” The @Warriors are really strong at being “the voice” of #DubNation. The @falcons have turned a corner in digital/social the past 12 months or so. There are so many accounts that are so good at this.”
Another inspiring team when it comes to innovative visual storytelling is the Arizona Cardinals. Team photographer Gene Lower views football as, “the biggest chess match of any sport there is to photograph.”
Lower’s passion for getting the shot and beating out the competition led him to become one of the first photographers in the NFL to use a real-time workflow with wireless FTP. Lower describes his process:
“I upload all of my high resolution content to my Photoshelter account for client access and quick download. First via an immediate first edit upload, then a full edit follow up. I also utilize Sony camera technology, built in wifi for example to share photos instantly after capturing. One quick story, example of power of this tool. On a Cardinals road trip I captured an image of a rookie with bags of chicken for Veteran players. I instantly sent to my contacts with the social media team with the Cardinals who immediately posted to their social media outlets. Besides thousands of likes, the food chain, Cane’s chicken, even liked the tweet. One step further, this separates me from my clients and gives me absolute job security. This technology also allows me to transmit photos to my clients between plays – no cardrunners or editors needed – thus I beat my competition to the editors around the world!”
No matter who wins it all this year, expect to see some incredible visual storytelling from everyone involved. We can’t wait to watch pro football teams continue to innovate with their visual content.
P.S. Are you just watching for the commercials? We’ve got you covered – here are our favorite throwback commercials.
Cover photo by Gene Lower.