Yale Athletics

The Ivy League prides itself on facilitating not only a high level of academic achievement but also premier athletic opportunities. On Wednesday, the conference took a large step toward affirming that mission.

The Ivy League on Wednesday finalized a 10-year contract with ESPN, America’s largest multimedia sports platform, making ESPN the exclusive media distributor of the Ivy League and allowing it to air more than 1,100 interleague competitions annually. That includes every conference football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball competition, in addition to a variety of other Ivy sports competitions. The deal is set to begin in the fall of 2018.

Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said she views the deal as a great opportunity to display the conference’s schools as strong athletic institutions.

“When we have the Yale men’s ice hockey team win the national championship as they did a couple of years ago, and when we have the Yale men’s basketball team beat Baylor in the NCAA tournament and go toe to toe with Duke in the next game, it shows that we don’t only have athletes who are students,” Harris told the News. “We have student-athletes who are really good athletes as well and who can compete.”

According to Harris, the plans for an exclusive multimedia contract had been in the works for the past several years. As the conference’s previous content distribution contract with NeuLion entered its final year, the athletic directors of all eight Ivy League universities constructed a request for proposal document. Harris said that multiple companies offered bids for the league’s exclusive media rights, and ESPN stood out as the best option.

ESPN has streamed some Ivy League competitions in the past, primarily on its ESPN3 online streaming service. But the deal entails much more Ivy League content.

“We have a deep history with the Ivy League, dating back more than 30 years,” ESPN Communications Manager Derek Volner said. “In recent years, we have expanded that relationship to include digital rights, having more than 85 conference events on ESPN3 the last three seasons. We are always exploring ways to best serve sports fans and with the impending launch of ESPN+, combined with our already existing successful relationship, now was the perfect time to enter a long-term agreement.”

The contract announcement coincides with the launch of ESPN’s new subscription service, ESPN+. Set to be released on April 12, ESPN+ will be accessible on a new ESPN app and will distribute the majority of new Ivy League content. The subscription will be available for $4.99 per month, significantly less expensive than NeuLion’s current monthly rate of $15.95.

“[A subscription will cost] just under $60 a year,” Harris said. “We think fans are going to have a better experience, and we’re making it more economical. It’s a win-win.”

A highlighted feature of the deal is the extent to which league competition will now be covered. According to its website, the Ivy League averages 35 sports per university, more than any other conference in the NCAA. Harris noted that with the 1,100 televised competitions, less-publicized sports will have more of their contests streamed and watched.

The contract’s implications for the Bulldogs remain unclear, but Yale’s athletics department is optimistic about the deal.

“We want to showcase the talented student-athletes at this university,” Director of Sports Publicity Steven Conn said. “That’s always been our goal, and we have better ways of doing that now.”

In addition, Conn said the new platform may have an effect on the university’s athletic recruiting process. Through ESPN, he said, Yale’s athletic contests will reach a broader audience, including the international pool from which Yale draws its recruits.

The league’s most prominent sporting events, such as the Yale-Harvard football game, are expected to attract large viewership. However, Harris stressed that the new publicity would not come at the cost of tradition.

“We have a different approach than most conferences,” Harris said. “It’s an approach consistent with our values … Yale-Harvard is always going to be Saturday afternoon. That’s just the way it is.”

Allen Siegler | allen.siegler@yale.edu