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Every offseason for 22 years, NFL rookies quietly have hit Los Angeles for Hollywood-style media training. “It’s mentally exhausting,” says new Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott of the NFL Players Association Rookie Premiere, which took place May 19-21 at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. “You don’t want to look like an idiot off the field.”
The annual event has traditionally been held to orient the rookies to their new job’s off-field demands (and lucrative opportunities), meeting sponsors and being photographed for their official trading cards and Madden video-game avatars. This year, the Rookie Premiere involved more content capture than ever before, thanks to the presence of ACE Media, the NFLPA-owned content company that was launched last September.
Eight months in, ACE Media has developed more than 300 pieces of content featuring more than 275 NFL players, and additionally has about 25 projects in varying stages of development. At the Rookie Premiere, Houston Texans wide receiver Braxton Miller filmed a sketch for Branding U, an upcoming webseries that’s the result of a new partnership between ACE and Lorne Michaels’ similarly nascent sports comedy platform The Kicker. Despite his lack of acting experience, Miller took direction well, ad-libbing with the comedian who plays the show’s self-described sports marketing guru.
“Athletes often are very coachable,” The Kicker general manager Grant Jones tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And they’re so competitive that they always want to be good at whatever they’re doing — which in this case is comedy.”
Other ACE Media partners unveiled at the Rookie Premiere include the mobile video app 120 Sports, which hosted a steady stream of players sitting down for interviews and showcasing their surprising talents (Seattle Seahawks running back Alex Collins demonstrated his Irish jig), and Spotify. THR can exclusively reveal that ACE Media is one of the streaming music giant’s inaugural partners in its foray into video, teaming up for the series Trading Playlists, which features two NFL players sharing their musical tastes for a day and discovering more about one another in the process.
“We want to showcase these players in a different way,” says ACE Media CEO Scott Langerman. “Despite the incredible popularity of the NFL, even the most diehard fans really only know about a handful of guys beyond statistics and highlights. There are guys who never get seen without their helmet, and you might not know that one’s a classical musician, or an artist, or a cook, so that’s a big part of why we’re here: to take the helmets off.”
Langerman acknowledged that not every player is comfortable or interested in off-field endeavors. One of them may well be the Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff, the top pick in April’s NFL draft. But while he has vowed to avoid the hype of the L.A. scene — “It’s as big a distraction as you make it,” Goff tells THR — the NFLPA considers him a likely top merchandise seller. Fortunately, the union feels the same way about the Cowboys’ Elliott, a charismatic player who already turned heads with his formal half-shirt at the draft. Taking in all that the Rookie Premiere had to offer, Elliott joked that he’s eyeing a specific apparel line: “I’m looking for a company that’s gonna embrace my crop top.”
A version of this story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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