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NFL Films brings VoIP to the Super Bowl

Jan 27, 20034 mins
Cisco SystemsNetworkingVoIP

How NFL Films uses convergence to ease its annual Super Bowl logistical nightmare

SAN DIEGO – Getting to the Super Bowl isn’t easy. Just ask Dave Franza, CIO of NFL Films.

“Logistically and technically, it used to be a nightmare,” Franza says.

Each year, NFL Films – which produces several NFL shows and films the Super Bowl – sets up a “mini trailer park” of 20 mobile production offices at the big game. Franza is responsible for providing phone extensions and T-1 data connectivity for the 200 workers there – about half the company’s staff. This year, he used IP phones at the Super Bowl as a way to cut costs and make things easier on his staff.

“Every year, we’ve had to rent phones,” Franza says, “which means dealing with the local phone company to order all those analog lines.” Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Super Bowl is played in a different city each year, he says.

This year, Franza ordered only the usual two T-1 lines for data. He’s also bringing about 300 IP phones from Cisco, a Cisco CallManager IP PBX server and enough routing and switching gear, for a decent-sized company or branch office.

NFL Films uses Cisco IP phone gear in its headquarters in Mount Laurel, N.J., that supports about 400 employees. The company switched to IP last year, leaving its Nortel PBX behind. But Franza says he worked with Cisco on the technology for several years.

NFL Films had planned its August 2001 move into a larger facility with improved video facilities and a new, digital editing and storage system since 1999.While planning for the move, Franza tested new iterations of Cisco’s equipment, whose features and reliability have evolved and improved since it first came on the market, he says.

The facility now is connected to Verizon by a DS-3 line, which is used to move the company’s large data flows of content to Web sites such as, and other online and TV outlets. The data pipe connects the NFL Films’ CallManager to Verizon’s backbone, where it is switched to the public switched telephone network.

Franza estimates that converging his voice and data connections with Verizon has let NFL Films cut its phone charges by 65%.

While Franza did not choose IP phones solely for his annual Super Bowl logistics challenge, he says the ability to ship everyone’s desk phone to San Diego saves him time and money.

Two weeks before the Super Bowl, Franza’s team ships 75 IP phones, 65 PCs, three Cisco routers – 3640 and 2651 models – and more than a dozen stackable Catalyst switches to support the mobile offices outside the stadium. After the T-1 line is set up and the network is live, the IP phones are plugged in and registered with the Call Manager back in Mount Laurel.

“Setting up the phones is something we’ve battled with every year,” Franza says. Now, “we’ve gone from a four- or five-day process [of setting up phones] down to a day.”

Franza’s staff no longer has to assign phone numbers to the remote employees, punch down phone wire or mess with phone wiring. End users have their same office phone numbers in the remote trailers with all their personalized features. Unified voice and e-mail messaging also followed NFL Films employees to San Diego this year.

Franza says the quality of the calls is good, even though the T-1s are used for both IP voice and for moving digitized video content from the editing stations in the trailers to remote Web sites, such as and

“Every year we seem to get things running a little more smoothly” at the Super Bowl, Franza says. “I think technology is a big part of that. . . . Anything you can control and don’t have to wait until the last week to handle makes it easier,” he says. “Maybe this year, I’ll get to have dinner before 11 p.m. while I’m down there.”