NFL Films Kicks Off New Digs


John George Staff Writer Philadelphia Business Journal Oct 4, 2002

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. - Steve Sabol isn't shy when it comes to boasting about NFL Films' new $45 million headquarters and film and television studios.
"I don't think there's another building like this on the East Coast," said Sabol, president of NFL Films and the son of its founder. "This place is the eighth wonder of New Jersey. Then, after a brief pause, he added, "I'm not really sure what the other seven are, but they're nowhere around here."
The 300 employees have spent the past year moving into the new 200,000-square-foot facility in the Bishops Gate Corporate Campus in Burlington County.
Last week, the company officially opened its new home.
The complex, built on a 26-acre site in Mount Laurel, features: a three-story, glass-encased film-processing lab; two shooting stages (one of which houses the set for the "NFL Under the Helmet" program that airs on Fox); 12 video-editing suites; six high-definition film-to-tape transfer rooms; four audio-mixing suites; several music composition and editing suites; a 150-seat theater; and a scoring stage capable of accommodating a 72-piece orchestra.
"This is Hollywood on the Delaware River," Sabol said. "What makes us unique is not just the talent we house in this building, but the variety of that talent. Our cinematographers are dispatched from here. The film is processed here. And the legendary stories of the NFL are shaped here as they move through one creative department to another - music, graphic arts, editing and sound design - until they are told to the fans through television, DVDs and the Internet."
NFL Films, a division of the National Football League, known for its innovative camera techniques and distinctive music, was founded in 1962 by Sabol's father, Ed Sabol, as Blair Motion Pictures. The company's first home was in South Philadelphia above a dry cleaner in what had once been a nephrectomy clinic.
In 1962, the NFL accepted Ed Sabol's $3,000 bid (double the price paid the previous year) to film the 1962 championship game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. He later convinced former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle that the NFL should have its own motion picture company to promote the league, and NFL Films was born.
The company has gone on to win 82 Emmy awards.
The facility replaces NFL Films' former headquarters, also in Mount Laurel, where the company has been based since 1979.
"There were three reasons we embarked on this project," said Barry Wolper, senior vice president and chief operating officer of NFL Films. "The first was we were out of room. We had already cannibalized every broom closet and conference room in the old building."
Wolper said the company needed more product space to handle all the additional new programming it was being required to churn out under the league's new television contracts with a variety of broadcast and cable networks.
In addition, NFL Films needed to upgrade its production equipment and capabilities to ensure it was in compliance with Federal Communication Commission mandates regarding the pending transformation to high-definition digital television. At the same time, Wolper said, the new facility gives the company greater ability to produce programming in DVD and Internet formats.
The complex will also grow NFL Films' nonfootball revenue.
"While our core business has also been producing programming for the NFL and league sponsors, this new facility allows us to greatly expand our business opportunities with other clients," Wolper said.
Over the past decade, the company has produced more than 3,000 such projects - ranging from documentaries, commercials, corporate films and music videos - for such clients as AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, NASA, the Christopher Reeves Paralysis Foundation and Subaru.
To oversee the project's development, NFL Films turned to The Staubach Co., which was founded and is led by former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach.
Staubach, who was in Mount Laurel last week for the official opening of the complex, said he did not think his ties to the NFL had anything to do with getting the job.
"If anything, it could have worked against us," he said. "They could have thought, 'We like him in our films, but what does he known about real estate?'"
Staubach, however, has been in the business for 25 years, having started his company while he was still with the Cowboys in 1977. He spent several years working with a real estate firm during the off-season.
"Back when I played, they didn't pay quarterbacks what they are paying them now," he said.
Joe Fetterman, a principal and senior vice president for The Staubach Co. of Pennsylvania Inc., said the project's biggest challenge was dealing with all the technical production needs of NFL Films, which annually produces more than 400 hours of original NFL programming that is distributed across 30 networks and 200 countries.
Each video- and audio-editing suite was specially designed so they sit on isolated concrete slabs and have acoustic-isolation walls.
W.S. Cumby & Son of Swarthmore was hired as construction manager for the project. Philadelphia based Garrison Architects served as Architect of Record while Dallas-based Russ Berger Design Group served as associated architects and acoustical design consultants. More than 50 other subcontractors worked on the facility.
The new building also houses - in a 3,500-square-foot, temperature-regulated vault with foot-thick concrete walls and a foot-thick ceiling - what NFL Films touts as the largest sports film archive in the world.
The company is currently transferring all of its images into a digital format, where they will be stored on a searchable online database. That will mean no more need for staffers to crack open dozens of tin cans of film to find old footage.
"We've never been understaffed; we've been under-facilitized," said Sabol. "Now, the equipment we have has reached the talent level of our people."

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