... and all I got was this shirt.
Seriously, there's nothing like free beer, scantly clad barmaids, and enough flat screen TVs to make Batman in the batcave jealous to celebrate the re-launch of NFL.com. As I mentioned yesterday, I got invited to the NFL's launch party for their new website and for their news Fantasy Football 2007 features. It was at Hard Rock Café, located just off 42nd street in the heart of Times Square. If you haven't been to New York in several years, it's important to note that it is much different now than it was many years ago. Gone are the bums, winos, strip clubs, pimps, johns, hookers, and porno shops. In their place? Just about every Walt Disney-themed bar, restaurant, theatre, and shirt stand you can think of.
I often wonder if we were better off with the bums and hookers. Oh well.
So anyway: Hard Rock. I got the invite four days before the event. Everyone else invited got the invites two months ago, but because I'm a blogger and the NFL is making an effort to reach out to us, I got one of the "last" invites. I typically toss these kinds of things in the trash when I get them. Why would I want to go to some dumb, stuffy, corporate event were a bunch of suits and ties are going to sell me on something I don't care about? Then it donned on me that if the event is at Hard rock, that likely means free food and beer.
I showed up 30 minutes early.
Typical me, I immediately fluster the Hard Rock staff. What? You're here fro the NFL thing? You're early. We can't... can we let him in? He's early. They're never early! To their credit, the staff were very nice and allowed me to go in. The room is littered with flat screens. Tables with candles and little football helmets line the upper area, which also houses the cash bar. Below, on the lower level, there are tables set up just like the war rooms tables for real NFL teams on college draft day. Life size football helmets with the NFL logo rest on each table along signs indicating who should sit there. Companies like Verizon Media, Mediacom, and GM are expected to sit here. Schmucks like me get the upper deck, per usual. In front is a stage is an NFL podium and behind that is a massive projection screen showing past NFL music events, like U2's "Beautiful Day" song at the Super Bowl in 2002.
I stroll up to the mezzanine area and check out some literature on a nearby coffee table. Yes, there's a coffee table and two chairs (one with a tiger print) in the bar. Classy. On the wall, in a glass frame, is a golden cane once used by Elvis. Inside the cane is a golden dagger. I contemplate my chances of getting out the there with the cane hidden in my pants. After about 2 minutes of serious thought on the subject, my rational mind tells me the obvious, and I move on. The flyers on the coffee table read "2nd Annual Media Agency Fantasy Football Draft, hosted my NFL Media Sales." I quickly run for the door. As much as free food and beer seemed appealing, no amount of free stuff is worth having to watch a bunch of corporate nitwits slog through a fantasy football draft. Before I hit the door, I meet Brad from NFL.com. He's a nice guy. Slick hair, glasses, nice suit. He tells me to stick around and "make myself at home" because the party will be fun. Later, I'll get to meet the head of NFL Media and talk to others on his team.
So, I stay. I'm a sucker for meeting people.
More on the flip...
I walk to the bar where the waitresses, in their low cut tees and tanks, are scarfing through a batch of spinach dip. They give me crap about showing up in jeans while all the NFL guys are in suits. I give them crap about how that spinach dip is going to go straight to their thighs. We giggle. We tease. They have perfected the art of the barmaid lunge. You know what I mean. They lunge over to hand you your drink or food, forcing your eyes to look down their already low cut shirt. I'll give them credit. They know what makes the NFL truly happy. I ask for a glass of water (because the free beer isn't "ready" yet) and stroll on my merry way.
Finally, some people start trickling in. I notice first off that they look like me. I pondered the notion of showing up in a suit and tie. Hey, I'm kind of representing SB Nation here. Why not look professional? At the last minute I decided to show up as I am: Jeans, black shoes, collared shirt un-tucked with an Old Navy tee underneath. I don't look like Bill Belicheck, but I also don't look phony. I'm a blogger. As a blogger, come as you are or not at all.
So, two gents walk in dressed like me (jeans, tee shirts, etc.). I say hi. We meet, greet, and shake. Their names are Dan Lewis and Jeff Tierney and they work for ArmchairGM, a cool site with a great community concept. We yack for a while, bitching about certain bloggers, praising others, and making fun of the whole NFL media event.
It's then the free beer is offered. We dash like rapid, frothy-mouthed wolves, knocking over old ladies and children along the way with little regard for human life!
The waitresses in low cut tees and tanks I mentioned before are now standing near the entrance of the bar holding cold buckets of Coors Lite. It's a football fan's wet dream. By now the food is laid out. In different areas of the bar they offer different choices of "football food." There's a big pretzel machine on the top level with bags of chips, cracker jacks, and popcorn placed nearby. On the mezzanine level they have pizza, chips, and various forms of dip. They use life-sized football helmets as containers for the dip. The top is removed and a bowl is inserted in the helmet. I was disappointed the Bears helmet held the guacamole while the Colts helmet held the crappy bean dip. I guess the Colts can't beat the Bears at EVERYTHING.
The ArmchairGMs guys and I eat, drink, and talk blogging. By now more people have arrived; many are NFL people dressed in suits. Everyone has a beer. Everyone has food. Everyone seems to know each other... except the three schmuck bloggers in the corner. The event gets underway with an announcement about NFL.com, it's features, and many of the new fantasy options. By now, Bono's "Beautiful Day" screech has looped for the 15th thousandth time, and I'm so sick of seeing his smug face I'm ready to find the Irish douchebag and smack him one. I tell the ArmchairGM guys I'll be back. I rush off for my second Coors.
As I snatch my second beer, I meet the man who invited me to this whole shin-dig: Brian Mermelshtein of NFL Media. Nice guy. Very friendly. Weighs all of 85 pounds wet. He walks over and introduces me to two gentlemen, one of whom is SB Nation own Mark Risola, aka Jetfighter from NY Landing Strip! Brian, Mark, and I talk for a bit until Brian stops us and brings over more gents, only these guys are in suits but don't look like they work for the NFL. My intuition was correct. They work for Pro Football Talk (PFT). One gives me his card: Larry F. Mazza. He and his entourage had come up from West Virginia, where PFT is located, to attend the event. I try not to tell him I think Mike Florio (his boss) knows nothing about football and should just stick with the National Inquirer-like gossip he has made famous on the net, but I act polite and we talk about the NFL because... what the hell else are we gonna yack about?
I break from the group and head back to the Bears helmet housing the guacamole. On a table nearby is a small Patriots helmet. I knock it over on purpose. No one sees me. Munching on some nachos, I walk back to the group. I meet more NFL people like the NFL's Senior VP of Media. Nice guy. Jets fan. He and Mark talk about Pete Kendall getting traded. Another NFL guy joins in and says he thinks the Jets will go 6-10. He's a Bengals fan. I try not to snicker (no offense Josh).
So, there we are: The NFL Senior VP of Media, Mark, the ArmchairGM guys, about three other NFL people, and myself. We're sitting there, discussing the future of NFL media. Apparently, they are making a big push to get more NFL media content to people who can't get NFL Network. They sell us on NFL GameCenter, a place fans can go to view highlights. They tell us they now have historical player stats, and that the site (last updated 5 years ago) is brand new with a sparkling finish. One feature that grabbed my attention was the NFL Field Pass feature which allows fans to tap into the local radio announcing for a team via the net. Other sites also allow this, but I'm hoping the NFL one is a bit more user friendly and, most importantly, FREE.
Sadly, the NFL Field Pass isn't free, which begs the question: Why pay for something I can get by simply go to my local radio stations' website and listen to it there? All in all, many of the new features seem promising, and the NFL is taking a step in the right direction with offering video and radio content from their site. However, asking fans to shell out even more money for something that in fariness to them should be free is a bit much. Still, I need to use features like the Field Pass first before I offer any real opinion.
I ask the VP of Media is he plans to offer a YouTube-like feature on NFL.com for fans. Many fans posted videos on YouTube of games they attended only to have the NFL yank them off for copyright reasons. A YouTube-like feature on NFL.com would give the fans what they want while also appeasing the NFL's paranoia about controlling their images. He seemed to like the idea, but was so worried about whether or not their current server structure could handle their present services that any new ideas went over his head.
That's when Adam Scheftler walked over and said hi.
You all know Adam, right? He works for NFL.com and the NFL Network. Adam shakes my hand. I introduce myself. He has no idea who SB Nation is. Water bottle in hand, Adam is about to walk away when I ask him one question: So Adam, how'd you feel last year when the Raiders called you a liar re: Art Shell?
My question gets his attention. Adam changes his mind, sits, places his water bottle on the table, and appears eager to answer my question. He sat there with us for 30 minutes. We talked about the Raiders and how they looked like utter morons for calling him a liar last season when Adam reported on NFL Network that Al Davis was planning to fire Art Shell. Adam stood by the report and his source. Oakland claimed Sheftler had an agenda because he covered Oakland's hated nemesis, Denver, for years. When the season ended, Oakland fired Shell, proving Adam right and making themselves look like schmucks in the process.
Adam has a big grin on his face recalling the story. I busted my butt for 20 years covering the NFL, Adam said, and the Raiders did more for me in one day than I'd done in 20 years of work. Adam's point was that by Oakland denying the report, insulting him later, and finally proving him right in the end, it gave him the sort of national attention he'd sought for some time. Adam got animated when he recalled bloggers and fans emailing him when he first reported the story, saying he was making it up because he was an errand boy for Mike Shanahan.
You realize now it's flattery, I tell him.
What do you mean? Adam asks.
If they all thought you were full of it, they never would have bothered to write you in the first place. And now after you were proven right and Oakland was made to look like idiots, those same people that bashed you in email will now flock to you whenever you have something breaking in the news..
Adam smiles. I'm a kiss ass, I know. But what I said was the truth. We talked further about how blogging is changing things and how reporters like him can work with bloggers. All around Adam Schefter was a good guy. He knows football; knows how the business works. He told me Asante Samuel will be at Patriots practice next week. He told me the Colts have always accommodated him, and doesn't understand how they have a reputation for being "rough" with media. We probably could have gone on talking for another two hours, but more networking beckoned Adam.
The evening ended with me meeting more lovely bloggers, like Danielle Peterson of Extreme Ravens and Richard Adragna of Jets Insider. For a party that started off as rather dull and silly, it turned into a fun time. Met some great people. Talked up ideas with several NFL Media people. Met some bloggers, yacked with reporters, and got a free dinner. Not to shabby.
I'll likely follow up with this in the coming months as the NFL wants several of us bloggers to test and review some of their new site features. Before I left, I contemplated stealing one of the little helmets. I couldn't find a little Colts one anywhere. I resigned myself to simply knocking over another Patriots helmet as a headed for the coat check to get my bag. The lovely coat check lady gives me my bag and a red shirt with the NFL's logo on it.
I tuck the shirt in my bag, and headed home.