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‘All or Nothing’ Is Something Different for NFL, Amazon

It may seem like a peculiar time to be launching an NFL series, but that odd mid-summer timing is precisely the point for Amazon’s All or Nothing: A Season With the Arizona Cardinals. The docu-series starts July 1 and offers a close-up of the Cardinals’ 2015-2016 season, starting from the first game and ending just shy of the Super Bowl. With NFL-HBO series Hard Knocks and the NFL pre-season kicking off next month, All or Nothing showrunner Keith Cossrow says July represents a “dead spot” on the sports calendar, and the NFL calendar in particular.

“It’s right when people’s appetite for football is just heating up,” he says. “People are on vacation, and they’re able to binge-watch, which we’ve never done before.”

The new season of Hard Knocks will focus on the fledgling Los Angeles Rams. Cossrow, coordinating producer at NFL Films, says All or Nothing is complementary to Hard Knocks, which follows the pre-season--the drama coming from players trying to make the team. All or Nothing, which the NFL folks see as an annual series, picks up after the squad is set, and runs the length of the season. “Some would call that the Holy Grail—spending an entire season with a team, shooting everything,” says Cossrow.

The directors amassed 1,000 hours of film across 20 weeks, cutting it into eight one-hour episodes. St. Louis native Jon Hamm narrates, and the series is available to all Amazon customers July 1 to August 31, at which point it moves to Prime.

Jordan Levin, executive producer on the series and NFL senior VP/chief content officer, said they shopped All or Nothing to a range of networks—broadcast, cable, SVOD—before settling on Amazon. “Amazon has been very aggressive in the original programming space,” says Levin, former CEO of the late WB network. “They started an unscripted unit, and felt very much like this could be its flagship show.”

Amazon will make three versions available to viewers: one family friendly, one for adults, and, in the coming weeks, a Spanish-language version. Levin does not see a saturation point approaching any time soon for NFL content—be it games or entertainment series. He says the latter actually helps build viewership for the former. “To some degree, there’s a direct relationship between storytelling efforts like this, bringing in newer fans, younger fans, more female fans,” he says. “They get engaged with the players and teams at a level beyond game play.”

In a first, 10 NFL games will stream on Twitter this fall, a simulcast of the Thursday games broadcast by CBS and NBC, and NFL Network. Levin won’t say much about that unique deal, but does allow that NFL football and social media are natural bedfellows. “We continue to see NFL related programming fueling (substantial) digital activity,” he says, “and being a catalyst for conversations.”

Cossrow described All or Nothing as the most challenging project he’s taken on across a couple decades at NFL Films. “It tested our ingenuity as storytellers and filmmakers,” he said, “in ways we did not expect.”

The Cardinals, he added, made for a great subject. The team won 13 games in the regular season, beat the Packers in overtime in the playoffs, and then lost to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC championship game. Coach Bruce Arians is a particularly charismatic entity on screen, Cossrow notes.

“My filter for watching a new show is, do I want to spend an hour with these people? Are they funny, are they colorful, are they charming,” he says. “What people will find is, they want to spend an hour with these people, then spend seven more.”