Megan Graham, Production and Design Editor

Match photos. Press arrangements. Stadium announcements. Touchdown tweets. Television deals. Often flying under the radar, the strategic communications team is integral to the Yale Athletics administration, coordinating all aspects of media coverage for each of the Bulldogs’ 35 varsity sports teams.

During the 2019-20 academic year, the team oversaw the production of 131 events, airing on ESPN+, NESN and other international partners. The strategic communications and creative services offices jointly captured hours of video footage, multitudes of photos and uploaded graphic designs and posts to social media platforms.

This is all made possible by a team of seven: four strategic communications directors who are each responsible for two to eight teams; two creative services directors who tell the Yale Athletics story through graphic design, photos and video; and a video producer who ensures that each winning moment can be caught on tape.

“[My job is all about] visually presenting the achievements of our student-athletes to the Yale fan base and the rest of the community,” Assistant Director of Creative Services Geoff Bell said. “As a former student-athlete myself, being able to play a small part in highlighting the success of their careers and seeing the great things that they go on to accomplish is always special to me.”

Director of Creative Services and Digital Technology Nina Lindberg and Video Producer Evan Ellis ’12 join Bell on the creative side, while Mike Gambardella, Steve Conn, Tim Bennett and Sam Rubin ’95 constitute the squad of strategic communication directors for the Blue and White.

Mike Gambardella, right, is one of four strategic communications directors for Yale Athletics. Courtesy of muscosportsphotos.com

For Bennett, assistant director of strategic communications, a normal day in the office consists of making sure that everything is prepared for upcoming events. Routine tasks include writing previews for the Yale Athletics website, assigning statisticians for each game and liaising with PA announcers.

Though 2020 now marks his 26th year at Yale, what he has enjoyed most about his job is working with students on campus.

“Yale is such a special place and getting to know the kids over the years has really been special.” Bennett said. “Whether it’s the athletes I deal with or the student workers we have in our office, I really just enjoy getting to know the students and working with them and seeing what they accomplish.”

As campus emptied out for spring break, Bennett was preparing for the Ivy Madness tournament slated to be held at Harvard. Rubin, assistant director of strategic communications, sent out emails confirming press attendance for the coming weekend’s women’s lacrosse game. Ellis was anticipating an update to the Ancient Eight’s broadcasting format that would hopefully increase audience engagement throughout the semester.

Days later, all competition was canceled for the rest of the semester.

Reinventing and redefining

On March 13, Rubin left the office for what would turn out to be the final time in months. Like the rest of the strategic communications team, he worked out how to redefine his role from home with no matches to prepare for.

“Clearly, we’ve had to get more creative in terms of our content without any games to write about,” Rubin said. “We’ve focused on finding ways to continue telling stories about Yale student-athletes, both current and former. When COVID first hit and the spring season was canceled, we transitioned to writing about the senior classes.”

With an abrupt end to the season, graduating student-athletes missed out on celebrations that would traditionally be held the final time they played at home. The strategic communications team wrote up special profiles and features, held virtual senior days and sought to provide a fitting send-off to those who had represented the Bulldogs over the past four years. 

The team of four strategic directors did not only put seniors under the spotlight, however. According to Conn, the senior assistant director of strategic communications, without weekly matches to prepare for and highlight reels to share, the group had more time to rediscover and retell “great alumni stories that should have been told years ago.” Moments across Yale’s sporting history were brought to life once again, helping to share the Bulldogs’ history with fans around the world and keep prospective student-athletes connected to the program.

Though the Bulldogs’ routine sports broadcasts were interrupted, planning for the future still continued. The Ivy League multimedia group met, and still continues to meet, biweekly to discuss strategies to increase growth, Ellis said.

“As a team we have approached this whole period as time we are never going to get back, so you adapt and you grow,” Ellis said. “I have spearheaded ways to bring ‘live’ game content to our audience through re-airing classic games with a fresh coat of paint. We have really had a chance to look at how we do things and continue to improve even though we do not have the rush of a weekend full of broadcasts and are not constantly moving from game to game. ”

Embracing the “new normal”

Since mid-August, the strategic communications team has gradually moved out of their home workspaces. Some members of the team work out of Ray Tompkins House on certain days of the week.

Though the Yale Bowl and Reese Field may remain unused for athletic competition for the rest of 2020, there are still stories to be rediscovered and achievements to honor.

According to Rubin, the change of pace has “given [the team] an opportunity to put some time into other projects that we wouldn’t have necessarily had the time for if we were in the middle of a typical season” and allowed them to “come up with some stories that might not have been told if there were games we were focused on writing about.”

Time away from the stands and media boxes has given the team a chance to shine light on moments typically swept up in the frenzy of the regular season, Bennett said.

Bennett also appreciates the opportunity that the lull in athletic competition has given him. He spent this time catching up on the record books, creating an oral history on the 10-year anniversary of the women’s crew national championship. Rubin, meanwhile, produced an oral history piece for the baseball team, “The Final Nine,” that chronicled the Bulldogs’ last game of 2020.

While the strategic communications team may be embracing change and adapting to the current circumstances, one aspect is still missing from their lives — watching the Bulldogs compete on a regular basis. “I miss seeing the Bulldogs succeed. I miss winning,” Ellis added.

“Our job is about telling stories … learning about the things that our student-athletes and our alums are doing and to trying to spread the word,” Rubin said. “That’s kind of what draws people to a job like this, and that hasn’t changed — even in the middle of a pandemic.”

The Ray Tompkins House is located at 20 Tower Parkway in New Haven.

Ryan Chiao | ryan.chiao@yale.edu
James Richardson |james.richardson@yale.edu