NFLPA’s content arm provides outlet for players’ creativity

NFLPA’s content arm provides outlet for players’ creativity

By Liz Mullen, Staff Writer


ACE Media, the NFL Players Association’s content arm, has several new projects in the works, including for the first time a scripted show as well as one featuring Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s camps for kids.

It’s also looking to relaunch its popular “Catching Kelce” show, which originally was a dating show starring Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce that aired on E! This time a different player would date women from all 50 states.

Additionally, ACE has signed new deals with Amazon and a new digital platform called CampusLore that is set to launch at the end of August. ACE is collaborating with both companies on creating concepts, suggesting players and bringing the concepts to reality by providing assistance on the logistics and the production end.

For Amazon, ACE shot a Father’s Day-themed video with five rookies talking about their relationship with their fathers. For CampusLore, ACE is filming NFL players, including rookies Leonard Fournette and Deshaun Watson, talking about their college football careers.

ACE Media

Launched: September 2015
Headquarters: Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles
Number of Employees: 5
What they do: Develop, identify and produce content opportunities across all genres and
platforms for athletes.

Turner Sports/ Bleacher Report
Sports Illustrated
Warner Bros.
EA Sports

“Catching Kelce” (E!)
“Trading Playlists” (Spotify)
“Take It to the House” (Bleacher Report)
“Player Hangouts” (Fanatics)
“Branding U” (Above Average)
Players Voice Awards (National Basketball Players Association)
In short, business is booming for ACE as it enters its second full year of operation.

Since launching in September 2015, the company has produced 1,300 content projects using 900 athletes, including not just NFL players but basketball, hockey and soccer players. ACE also has worked with 30 media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, The Players’ Tribune and Turner Sports’ Bleacher Report.

For its first full fiscal year, which ended in February, ACE generated revenue of more than $2.1 million, up from about $125,000 for its first seven months of operations.

Rory Brown, Bleacher Report president, has found ACE’s content focus to be “a pretty compelling idea.” For Bleacher Report, covering the NFL is a year-round business and getting unique content is vital. Before ACE — short for Athlete Content & Entertainment — Bleacher Report’s focus was on the league’s biggest stars, such as Tom Brady and Cam Newton, and players who had gotten into trouble, Brown said.

“You have this huge majority of players who are extremely talented athletes, the best at what they do with passionate fans at the team level, but they are not necessarily national names, national brands,” Brown said. “You have to bridge that gap and try to figure out how to connect a lot of these players with opportunities in the media.”

Starting out with a one-year deal that has since been extended to a multiyear arrangement, ACE helped Bleacher Report by providing talent for a series called “Take It to the House.” The show, sponsored by Samsung, featured NFL players like Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller showing off their homes. (Miller has a super-swank basement with three big-screen TVs, an arcade, a pool table and a huge tropical fish tank.)

Bleacher Report has relationships with players and agents, but ACE was “a one-stop shop” in lining up the players to produce the content, Brown said, adding that he wished other unions provided that kind of access to players.

Less than two years old, ACE Media has provided athletes from a variety of sports with a platform for their creative ideas and content.
Photo by: ACE MEDIA

The relationship provides more than just access. “They are very good at conveying the opportunity to the players,” Brown said. “You have the players reaching out to us with opportunities and ideas and ways to collaborate, versus it just being a one-sided conversation where we are just reaching out.”

Ahmad Nassar, NFL Players Inc. president and chairman of ACE Media, said part of the idea behind the company was to find a platform to showcase players’ off-field pursuits and personalities. ACE was filming Prescott’s camps earlier this summer, which he held for 2,400 first- to eighth-grade boys and girls in his hometown of Shreveport, La.; his college home, Starkville, Miss.; and his NFL city, Dallas.

Prescott said his camps are his way of giving back to the communities that gave him so much and is something he wanted to capture and share.

“It’s important for athletes to have a direct hand in the content we’re in,” Prescott said, “and ACE provides that opportunity for me and other athletes to control and own our story and tell it our way.”

Now that will extend to its first scripted show, a “feel-good drama” about the life of an NFL player that has some high-profile players involved as executive producers, ACE Media CEO Scott Langerman said.

“What will probably happen is we will do sort of cameos with real players,” Langerman said. “The star of the show and the main character of the show will be a football player, but he would be cast. He would be an actor.”

ACE is working with a production partner that has a “first-look” deal with one of the networks, which Langerman didn’t identify. If that network passes, ACE and the production partner will shop it to other networks.

The NFLPA has long been interested in exposing its rank-and-file players to the public and to reveal what kinds of people they are off the field. Years ago, the players association subsidized a show called “Helmets Off” on Fox Sports Net, but it wasn’t a success. “We stopped doing it because it was expensive,” Nassar said.

At the same time, social media and digital platforms were exploding, as was the appetite for NFL players, so union officials decided to form a company that was both a content creator and a content facilitator.

Nassar said ACE is in three lines of business: executive production, strategic consulting and logistics and administration. ACE was an executive producer for “Catching Kelce,” for which it received a fee. It has served as a strategic consultant for Bleacher Report and other companies.

An example of the third line of business is how ACE worked with ABC to supply NFL players for “Celebrity Family Feud.”

“I asked them, ‘Why does ABC want to work with ACE on something like ‘Celebrity Family Feud?’” Nassar said. “And the answer, I thought, was very telling. It was, ‘We wouldn’t really do this on our own because of the manpower needed to get those 10 players in the same place at the same time with all the different reps.’ We handle all of that.”

A recent project involves NFL players and pro wrestlers going head-to-head in the “Madden” video game.
Photo by: ACE MEDIA
Langerman, meanwhile, says the type of content that ACE creates or helps create falls in three distinct buckets: scripted and unscripted television shows, short-hit digital content, and branded content. An example of branded content is something ACE worked on with both EA and WWE: an internet show in which NFL players took on WWE wrestlers in the “Madden” video game.

Branded content “is the one that may have surprised me the most in terms of how much opportunity there is,” Langerman said. “The economic model, especially digitally, is moving in that direction. I think that will become a bigger and bigger piece of our business going forward.”

NFLPA President Eric Winston said players wanted to create a vehicle to help bring their ideas to fruition while still making money. But the amount of opportunities, and the variety, surprised everyone involved.

“When we rolled it out it was like, ‘Let’s just see what happens,’” Winston said. “It’s been extraordinary, the amount of demand, and we have to pick our path and figure out where we want to go with it.”