LOS ANGELES – The former West Coast headquarters of the NFL, North America’s most popular professional sports league, was nestled in Culver City, California, a residential suburb of Los Angeles, and its neighbors included a mosque, an assisted living facility, and an elementary school.
A window on one side of the building is spattered with cracks, and passing drivers might miss the NFL Network branding near the entrance as a palm tree partially covers the logo. Inside, the broadcast audio technology was so outdated that employees had to order parts from eBay because suppliers no longer sold them. The building housed the NFL Network but was not suitable for the long term.
“It was a renovation job from day one,” NFL Media senior vice president David Jurenka said in an interview.
The league‘s new west coast office and more glitzy setting reflect the NFL’s ambition to be a player in the Los Angeles entertainment scene. The multimillion-dollar facility, which opened last year, is just 50 yards from SoFi Stadium, the $5 billion site in Inglewood, Calif., built by the owner of the Los Rams Angeles, E. Stanley Kroenke, and will be surrounded by restaurants and retailers after the remodeled Hollywood Park development is complete.
The NFL’s renewed investment in the Los Angeles market is part of its broader media strategy. After signing media rights deals worth more than $100 billion last spring, the league extended its regular season to 17 games from 16 and ratings soared as fans reveled in games exciting. The season culminates Sunday with the Super Bowl, featuring the Rams playing at their home stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The sporting and cultural spectacle portends big business to come.
“Los Angeles gives you the power to be a star,” said Daniel Durbin, professor of communications at the University of Southern California, “and don’t underestimate how valuable that is for a brand that really lives in the media.”
The NFL, headquartered on Park Avenue in New York, opened its press office in Los Angeles in 2003, but the organization was isolated from the football world because the market lacked a team. Jurenka said the league had scouted other sites in the city before the Rams and Chargers moved to Los Angeles in 2016, but said Kroenke’s idea to build the new home near his home stadium Inglewood made the most sense.
The head office was completed just before the start of the season and houses more than 400 employees. The NFL integrated 10 of its New York-based departments, from human resources to football operations, into the building. Although the office’s primary purpose was to anchor the media hub, the league intentionally branded it with National Football League wording rather than NFL Network, as it did in Culver City.
The facility is 205,000 square feet, about 30,000 square feet larger than the old building, and includes five stages, a podcast studio, and an outdoor broadcast area with the stadium as a backdrop. Proximity to the stadium provides league executives and visiting team leaders with a natural meeting place and can help recruit new employees to Los Angeles.
The homes of some of the leagues’ biggest media partners, like Disney and Fox Sports, are nearby, which Durbin says should help the NFL expand its collaborative footprint.
“As long as it’s in New York, the West Coast considers it five hours, 3,000 miles,” Durbin said. “The media has figured out that LA is important ground and raising your profile here and being where the action is is the smartest thing you can do.”
Television offerings, not ticket or merchandise sales, generate the largest share of league revenue. Last March, the NFL negotiated new deals with NBC, CBS, ESPN, Fox and Amazon collectively worth about $110 billion over 11 years, nearly doubling the value of its previous deals. The new office had not been completed during those talks, but Hans Schroeder, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NFL Media, said he believed the NFL’s investment brought “credibility and importance” to the discussions.
The agreements come into effect in 2023, but 2021 gives the partners reason for optimism. After the regular season extension, NFL playoff ratings soared. Nearly 50 million viewers and digital viewers watched conference championship games, a 10% increase from the previous year, according to the NFL. That’s important given that ratings for other major shows like the Olympics and the Oscars have trended lower over the past year and viewers have an ever-expanding menu of entertainment options.
“The fact that the NFL has gained viewership over the past year in this environment is nothing short of astounding,” said Andrew Billings, a communications professor at the University of Alabama. “We all watch something different at different times, but the NFL is still a date.”
Schroeder credits regular-season drama — 34 games decided by a winning score, the most in NFL history — for sparking playoff interest. The league has also been experimenting with new ways to broadcast games. ESPN kicked off a Monday Night Football game in the wildcard round, and CBS for the second season in a row aired a Nickelodeon special for kids.
The Rams’ Super Bowl run should benefit the entire league, Durbin said. Sixty-four percent of Los Angeles households watched their NFC championship win, according to Nielsen, showing the team has rebuilt its fan base since returning from St. Louis. His success is a boon to the entire NFL, Durbin said, noting how the successes of the Lakers and Dodgers have boosted the popularity of the NBA and Major League Baseball.
NFL executives said it’s too early to discuss the potential for a regular-season Game 18, but the offseason schedule seems to be growing every year. Draft and scouting combine have become made-for-TV events, pumped up with a heightened sense of drama.
“They showed that there are just more hours that need to be scheduled outside of the actual game, and the NFL is ready and willing to produce that,” Billings said. “People are going to consume their product.”
The league continues to explore streaming deals as a way to make money and grow its audience. Starting next season, Amazon Prime will only show “Thursday Night Football” matches. Bidding will also open for NFL Sunday Ticket, the service that allows viewers to watch out-of-market games, when DirecTV’s contract expires after the 2022-23 season.
Brian Rolapp, the league’s director of media and affairs, said he’s excited about the potential for expansion of NFL Films, HBO’s in-house “Hard Knocks” documentary producers. The new Los Angeles stronghold has attracted interest from Hollywood studios and streaming companies wanting to add NFL Films content to their offerings, Rolapp said.
As the league celebrates a successful season in its version of Manifest Destiny, Rolapp said it’s raising the bar for new goals.
“We have a saying here that only the paranoid survive, and I think we don’t take anything for granted,” Rolapp said. “While we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and what you’ll see at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles the next day, we’ll get back to work to try to make it better.”