Robbie Short

After a dominating one-loss season that ended in an outright Ivy League championship, the Yale football team is set to arrive on a much larger stage: national television.

The Bulldogs, who played just a pair of games on sports cable channels in 2017, will participate in half of the six announced Ancient Eight matchups to be broadcast on ESPNU for the upcoming season, which include a quintet of Friday night games. While ESPN previously broadcast fewer than 100 Ivy League sporting events per year through its online viewing service ESPN3, the new agreement signed last April will increase the visibility of Ivy football through a 10-year media rights deal that will stream games on ESPN+ and other network platforms.

“We are significantly enhancing our relationship with the Ivy League, providing the conference, its institutions and fans the most comprehensive coverage of the league to date across ESPN’s networks and platforms, while also adding specific benefits that are made possible with the launch of ESPN+,” Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling, said in a press release.

Six Ivy League football games will appear on ESPN networks this season, highlighting all eight teams at least once. Three of them feature the Bulldogs. Dartmouth’s visit to New Haven on Oct. 5 will be broadcast on ESPNU. Two weeks later, the nation will see the Elis take on Penn at Franklin Field on ESPNU. Finally, Fenway Park’s rendition of The Game will be televised nationally as Yale and Harvard go toe to toe in the nation’s oldest ballpark on an ESPN channel to be determined at a later date.

In previous years, Bulldog football was often broadcast on paid subscription services such as the Ivy League Digital Network or other regional streaming sites such as Eleven Sports and One World Sports. The Ancient Eight also starred on NBC Sports Network for various Friday night conference games, including Yale vs Brown in 2017, while the Elis’ season finale against Harvard was regularly televised on CNBC, a network primarily known for its business and financial programming.

Ivy League football’s appearance on the national stage through the Worldwide Leader in Sports is a direct result of the conference’s 10-year deal with ESPN announced in April. Starting this year, at least 24 Ivy League contests will be broadcast on the network’s linear stations, and over 1,000 more will be shown on ESPN+, including every conference football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball game.

“These are very exciting times for Yale and the league,” Director of Sports Publicity Steven Conn said. “The agreement increases Yale’s exposure and reach in many ways. For football, it means three games on ESPN linear television and six contests on ESPN. Our football coaches and student-athletes are excited about being on ESPNU twice this fall and knowing that the Harvard game is on one of the ESPN TV Networks. There could be additional benefits from being affiliated with the network that hosts College GameDay.”

Ivy League football has also improved its play, boasting an impressive out-of-conference record last season of 18–6, second to only 1994’s record of 19–3–1. Three of the 18 wins were against the Patriot and Pioneer League champions, and the .750 nonconference winning percentage placed fourth among Division I conferences behind the SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten.

The Ivy League’s success on the gridiron, combined with the national presence of its alumni bases, helped the Ancient Eight become one of the first mid-major conferences, along with the Sun Belt, to strike a deal with the ESPN+ streaming service. This season, all 41 Ivy League football games contested at home sites will be broadcast through the network’s various viewing services, while the first contest to be featured nationally on ESPNU will be the Brown vs. Harvard matchup on Friday, Sept. 21.

However, out-of-conference matchups played away from Ivy League venues, such as the Bulldogs’ game at Holy Cross to open the season, will still be shown on regional sites such as the Patriot League Network, but nonconference games at home against Maine and Mercer will be featured on ESPN+. The streaming service, which costs $4.99 per month, also offers a seven-day free trial and can be purchased for a significantly cheaper price than the $119.95 that the Ivy League Digital Network formerly charged for an annual subscription.

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

The Bulldogs’ first game to be featured on ESPN+ will be their conference opener against Cornell in Ithaca on Saturday, Sept. 22.

Joey Kamm | joseph.kamm@yale.edu

Cristofer Zillo | cris.zillo@yale.edu