This weekend, Ivy Madness, the Ivy League’s inaugural postseason basketball tournament, will be televised on ESPN networks, bringing national exposure to Ancient Eight basketball programs.
The Ivy League announced the television deal on Nov. 10, granting ESPN broadcast rights to 15 regular season games and all six tournament games in addition to the next two renditions of the tournament.
“[ESPN’s tournament coverage] allows our fans, which are nationally distributed, if not internationally distributed, to tune into Ivy Madness,” Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said. “It allows other fans that might not be as familiar with Ivy basketball to tune in and watch.”
The Ivy League settled on ESPN as the tournament host after extensive discussions with several national networks throughout last summer and fall. During the selection process, the league consulted a television rights committee comprised of Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett, Columbia Director of Athletics Peter Pilling and Dartmouth Director of Athletics Harry Sheehy. The league also spoke with consultants from JMI Sports, the Ivy League’s official corporate sponsorship rights holder, and Lagardère Sports and Entertainment, a company that has aided the league with previous television deals.
According to Harris, the league ultimately selected ESPN because of its ability to feature all men’s and women’s games on national television and promote the tournament. Both women’s semifinal games will be broadcast on ESPN3 this Saturday, along with tape-delayed broadcasts on ESPNU. Both men’s semifinal games, including the showdown between Yale and Harvard, will air on ESPNU. On Sunday, the men’s finals are on ESPN2 while the women’s finals are on ESPNU.
The Ivy League Digital Network will provide free coverage all day long on Friday, including each team’s open shootaround, and will also broadcast between each semifinal on Saturday.
ESPN has the television rights for the first three Ivy Madness tournaments, but if the tournament format continues beyond that time frame, the Ivy League has the option of extending the deal, according to Harris.
“Being featured on ESPN is a really cool thing for my teammates and me,” guard Miye Oni ’20 said. “It’s nice to see how far the league has come in the last few years and that’s thanks to guys like [Yale basketball alumni] Justin Sears ’16, Brandon Sherrod ’16 and Makai Mason ’18, who really helped raise the bar for Ivy hoops.”
In anticipation of the inaugural Ivy Madness, the Ivy League and individual schools have publicized the tournament through a variety of media outreach initiatives. The @IvyLeague and @Ivy_Basketball Twitter accounts have released a series of promotional videos featuring players and coaches from participating teams this week, including a clip featuring Yale head coach James Jones on Tuesday.
According to Ivy League assistant executive director of digital media and communications Matt Panto, the league has also sought to complement marketing plans established by individual programs.
“From our relationship with our television partners to our Ivy League Digital Network broadcasts to our media outreach initiatives, we’ve tried to keep the tournaments in the forefront of everyone’s minds especially as we started conference play in January,” Panto said. “Our member institutions … have gone above and beyond with some marketing and social media campaigns to make sure their fans have been engaged throughout the season.”
The national coverage provides a wider audience for Ivy League basketball, potentially aiding programs in future recruitment efforts.
“Usually we only end up with a couple of nationally televised games each season, so being able to play for a championship on a bigger stage is something you look forward to as a player,” guard Trey Phills ’19 said. “The TV coverage will definitely attract more recruits that might not know how high the level of basketball is in the Ivy League.”
Harris said the Ivy League has strong nationally televised coverage of sports like basketball, football and lacrosse, but wants to ensure the ILDN still has good games and content for its subscribers.
Several Yale players and coaches interviewed said they would like for national coverage to continue to increase in future seasons.
“You certainly hope to have an opportunity to have network coverage,” Jones said. “It promotes the league and it promotes our brand. Having the ability to be seen [on television] is certainly important. We have that ability, and we hope to expand it.”
The semifinal game between Yale and Harvard tips off on Saturday at 4 p.m.