The general idea of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” training camp docu-series tends to get a bitter scoff by many across the NFL. On ESPN’s “Get Up,” a former NFL defensive linemen said “Hard Knocks is the worst damn thing the Oakland Raiders could do,” but why? Because it can be intrusive? Because it can give away training camp’s hidden secrets? Does the smell of HBO ward off playoff contenders? There’s a way this could all be true, but this is 2019, and we live in the age of social media where there are no secrets.
Raiders are perfect for Hard Knocks
In 2019 we’ve never had a better view of the modern athlete. We open up Twitter to see their takes on everyday topics like best burritos, politics, and the NBA Finals. We turn to Instagram to get a look into their lives visually. Consumers crave this type of content almost as much as the people we follow like sharing it. HBO’s ability to pull back the curtain to a new level could be the love child of the millennial NFL fan and athlete.
What team could better break down the Hard Knocks stigma than the Raiders? The Raiders edition of Hard Knocks will be led by a star-studded cast on a scale that HBO has never really seen. Mr. Big Chest, Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden, Richie Incognito are all set to grind out training camp in the gem of Wine Country, Napa, California. With Gruden, Antonio Brown and especially quarterback Derek Carr’s transparency via social media, the potential for raw emotion bill them the perfect cast of characters for HBO.
Yes sirrrrr brodie!!! https://t.co/Ioq90zKBUG
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) June 12, 2019
Headlining personalities are only one part of Hard Knocks. What makes the show great is its ability to magnify raw details we can only get from a reality TV event. Hard Knocks storytelling opens up the small windows we get from following along our favorite athletes on social media. Yes, the first meeting between Brown and Vontaze Burfict will be appointment television for the NFL diehard. But what captures the casual fan is stories like former Cleveland Browns tight-end Devon Cajuste and his crystal collection from last season.
Hard Knocks balance between how a football team is built and the everyday life of a football player is the best form of reality television the NFL can produce. We typically only get snippets of life at training camp through social media and on-hand reporting. Hard Knocks presents the day in, day out grind of life of the NFL mixed in with HBO’s award-winning storytelling.
We now understand the storytelling formula— training camp battles, introduce a silly assistant coach, find a lovable fringe player and so on. After several seasons this became dry, but the connection between social media and the show grew to new heights last season with the Browns. Hard Knocks has become a show where everyone flocks to their favorite social media outlet to either live tweet the show or instantly react like a “Game of Thrones” Sunday Night. The instant collective reaction from fans and players have made the show more interesting in recent years.
The days of HBO being looked at as a pest inside an NFL locker room should be over. Instead of teams hiding from the opportunity to appear on Hard Knocks, they should embrace it. The behind-the-scenes storytelling is exactly the type of content the millennial fan craves. Add in a dash of Gruden, Wine Country, Brown, and an impending move to Las Vegas, and you get must-watch TV of the highest order.
Tommy Call is a writer for PFN covering the NFL at large. You can follow him at @tommy_III on Twitter.