In football, the red zone is known as the 20 yards before the end zone. The RedZone is also better known now as the channel that has been described as “football-watching Nirvana,” “life changing,” and even an “out of body experience.”
It exists for the sole purpose of rapidly cutting between almost every NFL game on Sundays.
Just before 9:00 a.m. on a recent foggy morning in Culver City, RedZone's producers (all of them male) gather in the NFL's "AFC Conference Room" to discuss story lines in each of the ten games the channel will show.
Scott Hanson is sipping a blue liquid that looks like antifreeze. It’s watered down Gatorade.
“That is my last beverage of the day,” said Hanson.
Having the rare job in television that requires being on the air for seven hours straight with no commercials means no bathroom breaks for Hanson.
“I hydrate early in the day and that’s gotta last,” said Hanson. “As dad used to say, ‘Go now kids. We’re not pulling the car over until we get there.’"
Hanson compares his job hosting RedZone to an NFL player. He spends hours in the gym – even in the offseason – training to make sure he has enough stamina for a seven-hour broadcast.
During the season he spends most of his waking hours preparing for RedZone.
“Everything I do is all about Sunday,” said Hanson.
When Hanson opens the door to the make-up room, he uses a paper towel to cover his hands to protect himself from germs.
In four years of hosting RedZone, Hanson has never missed a game day.
Hanson has perfectly coiffed made-for-TV blonde hair, yet the build of a football player.
He was a walk-on at Syracuse University, but hosting RedZone is what he says he was truly destined for.
“Some guys can jump high and some guys are great with money," said Hanson. "I’m great with a whole bunch of football games going on."
You know all those studies that say we can’t multitask? Hanson would appear to be the exception.
When he was a kid, he would watch one game on the family room TV, another on the TV he dragged in from the den, and listen to another on the radio…while carrying on a conversation with his mom.
“I guess I’ve been a multitasker for many, many years,” said Hanson.
'Seven hours of commercial-free football starts now'
Before kickoff, Hanson darts out of the studio for his final bathroom break.
Then he's back, the floor director counts down, and RedZone gets underway with Hanson's signature opening.
“Seven hours of commercial free football starts now,” he announces.
During the broadcast, Hanson stands in front of a wall of 17 monitors showing every game, plus replays and stats.
So how can he keep track of who’s doing what in every game? He doesn’t.
Just off camera sit two researchers. He peppers them with questions when his microphone is off.
Most of the time RedZone shows one game at a time. But if lots of teams make it into the red zone at once, that means dividing the screen into 2, 3, or even 8 smaller boxes, which is known in RedZone terminology as the “octobox.”
“It’s become almost mythical,” said Hanson.
'The new viewer of television'
If Hanson is the quarterback, his coach calling the plays is producer Brian Nettles.
With monitors showing every down, Nettles says the control room, where he decides which games to cut to, is kind of like a sports bar…without the wings and beer.
“People have turned over their remote controls to us,” said Nettles.
RedZone seems to be the perfect channel for our short-attention span, multi-screen times.
Why watch just one game when you can watch eight?
“It’s the new viewer of television that we have where you’re not just focused on one thing,” said Nettles. “It’s someone who’s reading six books at the same time and able to keep track of all of them.”
Is that even possible? Probably not.
But a big appeal of RedZone comes from its chaos. A lot of sports television is beautifully packaged and produced these days. RedZone isn’t, and Hanson says that’s the point.
“We’re not as sleek as some real pre-produced shows but we don’t endeavor to be,” explained Hanson. “People tell us they get the impression they’re almost watching something they shouldn’t be.”
Since 2009, the NFL has produced two RedZone channels, one hosted by Hanson for cable customers, and another, hosted by Andrew Siciliano for DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers.
Both versions capitalize on the fact that the NFL is now far and away America’s most popular sport.
Consider this: Of the 20 most-watched programs on TV this season, all 20 are NFL games.
“People just keep liking it more and more, to our benefit,” said Hanson.
So, will there ever be a day when more people watch RedZone than traditional games?
“Me and my bank account sure hope so,” Hanson chuckled.
He’s kidding — sort of.
The NFL doesn’t release ratings, but it says RedZone’s viewership has risen as the channel has become available in more than half of homes with television nationwide and on Verizon smartphones.
What does that mean for the future of how we watch the NFL?
We’ll have that part of the story, tomorrow.