Neil Horowitz ’09 scrawls onto scratch paper as he stares down a still frame of two Eli soccer players, frozen in mid-kick against the background of the green field. He has already watched and rewound the latest women’s soccer game tape for about three hours, trying to pick out the most interesting clips, and he has edited out the game time buzz, manually lowering the thin little red lines that indicate background noise on each segment.
Before he leaves the Digital Media Center for the Arts tonight, after probably seven hours of work, he will have received some awkward glances from the other inhabitants as he puts on his best Dan Patrick voice and records his witty voice-over. And tomorrow, if he is lucky, Horowitz will have game footage from a few other coaches. He will start to put together the rest of his television show, which will be finished by 5:30 on Friday, not because anyone is going to be waiting for it, but because he takes his “credibility” very seriously.
This is YSPN, a SportsCenter knockoff, potential savior for audience-starved YTV, and 30-hour-a-week labor of love for Horowitz. Horowitz — anchor, producer and coordinator — creates minute-long segments of highlights from coaches’ game tapes, then adds in a voice-over packed with statistics, analysis and as many Yale names as possible.
It may not yet merit an allusion in “There’s Something About Mary,” and it has not yet aired its fifth episode, let alone its 25000th, but YSPN shares with SportsCenter two basic premises.
First, air a show often enough and an audience will get hooked. Though YTV execs are not planning to compete with SportsCenter’s 11-hour-a-day record, Horowitz said YSPN will probably air all of Friday night, with repeat showings during the week.
And second, there is always a sports fan that needs catering to — in SportsCenter’s case, the Green Bay fan living in Washington, DC who is sick of only being able to get Redskins play-by-plays on his local radio, and in YSPN’s case, the Bulldogs fan who just does not have the time to make it onto the field every weekend.
“Pizzazz-y clips, a lot of commentary and things that people will actually watch,” are what Horowitz has in mind for his show. He points out that even when he goes to a baseball game back home, he watches SportsCenter that night to find out players’ statistics and see an interview or two.
Horowitz knows Elis have school spirit — he points to the ubiquitous “Harvard Sucks” posters as an example — and he knows that the athletic fields are awfully far away and the sports games are awfully long.
And that particular combination, YTV director of programming Suzanna Lee ’08 said, is what YSPN hopes to channel.
“We want to get people pumped for upcoming games,” Lee said. “Our enthusiasm for athletics doesn’t always weave through newspapers. The vibrancy that people display at this school is much better fitted for television.”
On YSPN, every team is “triumphant” and every game is “thrilling,” no matter how badly the team loses. Horowitz is the voice of the Yale sports fan; when Yale is down, he makes sure we know he is sweating, too.
“Basically, every other show on YTV is a knockoff, and why would you watch a knockoff when you can watch the real thing, which is more professional anyway?” Horowitz said. “YSPN is about your sports, your friends who are athletes and your school.”
Lee said she thinks Horowitz’s show fits perfectly into YTV’s new programming lineup.
“My biggest goal for YTV this year is to make it more applicable to the student body — to make it a venue that reflects what’s going on the campus,” Lee said. “YSPN is definitely a way to start doing that.”
Inspired by hit film “Anchorman,” Horowitz tried out for YTV News and mentioned his college sports obsession to Lee, who loved his idea for YSPN. Dozens of e-mails to coaches, several “plan B’s” and two half-hour episodes later, Lee said her chance meeting with Horowitz was among the best things to happen to YTV.
Initial concern about NCAA bylaws on the part of the coaches and lack of technical know-how on Horowitz’s part made for some major hurdles along the way.
As an example of something “born from a Plan B,” Horowitz cited the Freshman Athlete segment, a quick profile birthed when unreturned calls from a hockey coach prevented him from including a winter sports preview in his pilot episode.
Alongside such staples as “100 Reasons Why Harvard Sucks,” the profile serves to break up the fast-paced analysis and make YSPN a little less ESPN and a little more Eli-centric, Horowitz said.
But Bridget Deiters ’07, a club volleyball player and the self-professed “only listener to WYBC,” said sports are not as important to the Yale student body as they are elsewhere, though she hopes people will tune in to YSPN when their friends are featured.
“I’m from the Midwest, and I know that at Illinois and Wisconsin, sports are life for the students,” she said. “Here, you just don’t have that. We’re a Division I school, but I don’t think our enthusiasm is at the Division I level.”
Though YSPN may not yet have made a cultural imprint the size of SportsCenter’s six-note theme song or self-referential commercial oeuvre, Horowitz hopes the show will create some kind of legacy.
“It would be cool to leave behind a staple at Yale, 20 or 30 years after I’m gone,” Horowitz said. “But in the short-run, I’m just looking for a consistent viewing audience, so we know we’re taping this for our watchers and not just ourselves.”
Ultimately, YSPN will be limited by the fact that its staff, even if it grows beyond Horowitz, will consist of full-time students, and students trying to handle YTV’s growing pains at that.
Lee said YTV is stuck in the middle of a vicious cycle: without funding, it is hard to shell out money for $1500 cameras, but without the equipment, it is hard to put together a quality DVD to show potential advertisers.
“It’s easy to tune in and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…,’” Lee said. “But people don’t understand how A – time-consuming and B – expensive it is to produce a television show.”
This is what makes the YSPN premise so elegant. By utilizing tapes coaches already record for personal use, YTV preempts problems with lack of manpower or equipment.
Steve Conn, the athletic department’s director of sports publicity, called YSPN a hybrid of sorts. In exchange for footage from athletic teams, YSPN hypes up athletic spirit on campus and advertises upcoming games.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said.