As the Yale men’s squash team dethroned Harvard for the Ivy League championship in New Haven last weekend, Bulldog supporters across the country were able to follow the action online by watching the Ivy League Digital Network.
The February match marked the first time a squash game at Yale was broadcast on the Ivy League Digital Network, an Internet television network that broadcasts Ivy League athletic events. Now in its third year of operation, the network has grown to include 34 different varsity sports and will broadcast over 1,100 events just this year. Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said the rise of the league in national media and the network’s continued growth is evident given recent rises in numbers of subscribers and views.
“There are no questions about it, [the Ivy League’s] success has driven more and more national attention [to the League] over the past years,” Harris said. “We have recently seen that with the JMI Sports agreement, Yale and Under Armour. People notice when the Ivy League does something well.”
The number of ILDN subscribers has grown by 30 percent each year since it was first implemented in the 2013–14 season, Assistant Executive Director of the Ivy League Matt Panto said. He added that the total number of subscribers is fluid and difficult to calculate given that the league offers daily passes to those who only want to watch one specific event.
Individual Ancient Eight schools reported a similar growth pattern. Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia have all grown their respective member bases yearly, athletic administrators at each of the schools said.
More importantly, Harris said, the number of games each individual subscriber tunes into has also increased.
“Our subscriptions continue to grow as do the number of games [our subscribers] are watching,” Harris said. “We care about the second number. That’s our goal, we want people to watch more and more of our games.”
Interim Director of Athletics Communications at Columbia Mike Kowalsky attributed this growth to the Ivy League and individual university administrators’ ongoing promotion of the network via social media. Yale Assistant Director of Sports Publicity Sam Rubin agreed, and added that the league has focused a large part of its efforts on growing the ILDN and spreading the message of Ivy League athletics.
The Ancient Eight schools average a total of 35 varsity teams each, and so far, 34 different sports have been broadcast on the network, Harris said. But she added that the range of sports broadcast varies across each institution.
The eight institutions agreed to stream all football and men’s and women’s basketball games this year, but beyond that, the decision of which sports to stream lies with each school’s administration, Harris said.
While Princeton streams 29 of its 38 varsity sports, Senior Associate Director of Athletics at Princeton Jerry Price said, Columbia streams only 10, according to Kowalsky.
The athletic communication offices at Dartmouth, Brown, Harvard, Penn and Cornell could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Kowalsky said the ILDN stands out in its offering of sports such as rowing, fencing and squash — a variety which can help attract more viewers to the network.
“There’s a niche market for each of those sports, so that can help bring in viewers,” Kowalsky said. “The more we can get exposure to those programs, the more numbers you’re going to see.”
The plan is to eventually broadcast all varsity sports on the network, Harris said. The network strives to include sports with smaller fan bases — this season, for example, was the first time a fencing match was streamed online.
Price said although they would “love to stream all 38 sports” at Princeton, technical difficulties often prevent the administration from streaming some sports. Columbia, for example, only began streaming soccer last year after the administration updated Internet infrastructure at the soccer fields, Kowalsky said.
Meanwhile, other Ivy sports have hit new ground by grabbing the attention of cable television company ESPN. While ESPN already streamed some Ivy League matches on its ESPN3 channel previous to the 2013–14 season, the launch of ILDN led ESPN to develop a formal relationship with the Ivy League, Vice President of Programming and Acquisitions for ESPN Digital Media John Lasker said.
Now, ESPN3 broadcasts a set number of Ivy League games each year — most of which are decided before the start of the season, although matches can be added if a team does particularly well, Lasker said. He added that the viewership for these ESPN3 broadcasts has only grown since the start of their partnership.
“We pick and choose particular events that probably deserve even greater distribution and exposure,” Lasker said. “Our broadcasts reach 100 million homes, and we give people that might not otherwise have been interested in Harvard-Yale basketball some insight into how competitive and good these teams and games and coaches are.”
ESPN was primarily interested in streaming Ancient Eight athletic events because of the Ivy League’s conference brand and “really strong” alumni base, Lasker said. Because fans are very loyal to the brand, he said viewership is unlikely to fluctuate significantly.
But Harris highlighted that the ILDN allows the league to feature all of its teams, while television networks are only interested in a select few sports. ESPN3, for example, has broadcast sports such as basketball, lacrosse and hockey.
Moving forward, Harris said she and other Ivy League administrators will continue to increase the quality and total number of broadcasts to make the Network even more attractive to its audience.
Digital networks for other large sports conferences, such as the Patriot League Network, do not charge a fee for their streams. While the ILDN’s subscription fees — $119.95 annually, $49.95 for a four-month pass or $15.95 for a one-month pass — cover only a small percentage of its stream costs, Harris said she does not know if the service will be made free in the future.
“We continue to evaluate how we want to proceed and handle our pay for the Network,” Harris said.
There are 35 varsity sports teams at Yale.