Not that long ago, NFL teams’ main objective on schedule release day was just that—releasing the schedule, ideally as quickly as possible. But in recent years, creatives within the clubs have instead turned the day into something worthy of its own slot on the NFL calendar. Now, you can even capitalize it.
Schedule Release Day has become a chance for the football world to celebrate digital storytelling, with teams releasing unique videos that rack up millions of views. It’s also a stage for offseason competition, becoming the closest thing NFL teams have to a Super Bowl for social media.
And the feedback from followers comes quickly. “Within, like, the first two minutes, you can tell if you have a good one,” said Los Angeles Chargers senior editor, creative branding David Bretto.
Last year, the Chargers indeed had a good one. An anime-inspired montage stuffed with subtle digs at upcoming competitors regularly topped the rankings of the best 2022 schedule release videos after accruing more than 5 million views on Twitter. (And yes, schedule release video rankings are certainly a thing.)
“Social and digital are really becoming entertainment mediums,” NFL director of club and college social marketing Sana Merchant-Rupani said. “[Schedule release day] has really continued to grow as platforms change and as more and more people get really excited and look at this as a tentpole in and of itself.”
The league has helped foster the online competition, offering a leaderboard that lets clubs analyze their own social viewership metrics against broader benchmarks during the season and the offseason. Weekly and monthly reports further share information on what’s working and what isn’t.
LA’s prep for Thursday started in January, when there was a split internally. “A good portion of us wanted to continue anime, we saw the success that it had and wanted to capitalize on that again,” Bretto said. “Another part of us was like, ‘Hey, let’s open the floor to other ideas and see if we have anything else that could top that this year.’”
A handful of brainstorming sessions followed throughout February, as staffers slowly covered a wall inside the team’s facility with post-it notes containing various ideas. Ultimately, though, the team decided it had to return to anime. There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than a sequel, after all.
“We felt like there was more story to be told,” Bretto said. “We took what we learned from last year and then tried to elevate it.”
For one, the team was confident that in-house animator Andrew Córdova had improved. The group also wanted to focus on stuffing the short with even more references. A document titled “Chargers 2023 Schedule Release Burn Book” came to be filled with every joke staffers could think of about a team, its history and its hometown.
“One of our goals is that people will watch this and then have to watch it again and again and again to get it all,” Chargers head of production Tyler Pino said. In total, more than a dozen people contributed to the video.
The Chargers now have a signature style, but they’re not alone. The Cowboys have made a habit of leaning on star power and big budgets. The Panthers often turn to nostalgia. In Atlanta, meanwhile, the Falcons wanted to keep people guessing.
“We definitely don’t want to be formulaic,” Falcons VP of marketing Shannon Joyner said. “The teams that we feel like succeed in this moment are original, and have concepts that are kind of unexpected.”
In the past, the team has impressed fans with a Game of Thrones spoof and a digital Rube Goldberg machine. “We had a full day ideation workshop as a team,” Joyner said of this year’s process. “We probably went through 20 or 30 different concepts.” A series of votes helped the team narrow down its options.
This year, the Falcons also integrated team sponsor Ticketmaster into their release video, expanding the resources the team could devote to the content and making the project valuable beyond merely driving interest in the season to come.
Teams continue investing in their online footprints and content capabilities—on schedule release day and every other day. The Falcons recently became the latest franchise to commit to building their own content studio, with Ticketmaster getting the naming rights to the multimillion-dollar space, proof of how much teams can grow in this area.
“I think schedule release is a microcosm of the bigger narrative of our team and the NFL as a whole,” Joyner said. “So who knows what the ceiling is?”
By Thursday evening, the pressure is off, Pino said. The stress is gone. The team has time to watch the videos other clubs put out as staffers text with friends from across the league.
But rookie minicamp starts Friday, and the content wars never end.