Courtesy of muscosportsphotos.com

In any year with Ivy League games and screaming spectators, Yale production crews broadcast competitions for 21 of the Bulldogs’ 35 varsity teams. They capture footage for sports ranging from football to lightweight men’s crew and present it live to audiences with play-by-play commentary, statistics and replays of highlight-reel action.

Behind each broadcast is a team of more than 35, consisting of full-time staff, members of the local community and Yale students, most of whom are also student-athletes. According to Yale Athletics Video Producer Evan Ellis ’12, the team “strives to make the best broadcasts, which requires a lot of assistance and a lot of help.”

“Our job from top to bottom is to teach and to educate and that’s something that I take very seriously,” Ellis said. “Some of our students have gone on to do great things in broadcasting and in sports, and this has been a great way [for them] to learn while being a part of something that definitely helps to promote the mission of Yale Athletics.”

Games are broadcast on ESPN+, with a select few streaming on NESN. Fans overseas can also tune in on simulcasts hosted by Stretch Internet. While livestreamed games have now become commonplace, sports broadcasts at Yale have humble beginnings.

The Bulldogs’ first regular broadcasts began just over 10 years ago when a group of students including Ellis launched the University’s first athletics video streaming product, Yale All-Access. While relatively basic in comparison to modern standards, the team pioneered many techniques still used in Yale’s broadcasts today. Then, in 2013, the Ivy League Digital Network was born, standardizing and centralizing streaming across the Ancient Eight programs. Five years later, the Ivy League signed a television deal with ESPN, giving fans access to all of the Bulldogs’ broadcasts via ESPN+ and occasionally, ESPN’s core linear networks.

Feeds captured during broadcasts allow officials, like referees pictured above at a women’s basketball game against Quinnipiac last November, to conduct video reviews (Photo: muscosportsphotos.com)

Despite streaming’s rapid transformation over the past decade, the Bulldogs’ broadcasting team has largely stayed true to its student-run roots.

“We have several students and student-athletes that play a large role in ensuring strong broadcasts for Yale Athletics,” Associate Athletic Director of Strategic Communications Mike Gambardella said. “These roles can range from set-up, cabling, camera operators, producers, graphics, replay operators and on-air talent. Many positions can be taught and learned through shadowing a few events and help build up our ‘depth charts’ as we usually broadcast numerous events per week, including simultaneous games, and nearly 200 broadcasts per athletic season.”

With some weekends of a regular season featuring upwards of four different teams competing at home, students play an important role in helping to staff each game, ensuring that broadcasts can occur simultaneously at different events across campus.

Ellis said that Yale’s broadcast teams are also structured to meet industry standards — each team is constructed in the same format as any professional television crew. A regular weekend conference basketball game typically consists of 11 staff members: a producer in charge of the entire operation; a director selecting video feeds; a play-by-play and a color analyst who provide live game analysis; a technical director responsible for operating camera feeds; an assistant director liaising with master control at ESPN; a replay operator; and four camera operators, with two on the game line and two up in the “crow’s nests” — upper angles that capture a complete view of the action.

A football game, on the other hand, may require upwards of 22 crew members. 

The large production crews pay off: Ellis said that ESPN’s viewership numbers show that Yale has the highest-viewed football, men’s basketball and lacrosse broadcasts in the Ivy League.

According to women’s field hockey captain Imogen Davies ’22, working for the broadcasting team as a production assistant has allowed her to “learn a lot about how event production works.” She has operated cameras at events for basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, ice hockey and gymnastics.

“Being paid to go to Yale Athletics events is amazing,” Davies said. “The broadcast team is very well organized and it is run quite professionally. It has been a really great experience so far.”

Students are not the only contributor to the Elis’ sports broadcasts, however. The team also draws upon the talents of individuals from the greater New Haven area. Sean Raggio, a recent graduate from Quinnipiac, has served as a technical director for many events, while Kayla Burton, a sports reporter for Western Mass News and former women’s basketball player at Lehigh, has provided color commentary for several basketball games.

Kayla Burton reports from the sideline at a Yale men’s basketball game against Penn last February. (Photo: muscosportsphotos.com)

Though seasons of experience have made Yale’s sports broadcasts slicker than ever, the team is still looking for ways to innovate and improve their game. Harvard’s program, for example, has brought coverage to almost every single one of its teams at one point or another — including their alpine and nordic ski teams. While Ellis said that Yale is not at that level yet, he maintains that the future of the Bulldogs’ broadcasts involve working closely with the other programs and staying at the forefront of technology to bring coverage to more sports, all while maintaining a high level of student involvement.

“It’s always cool to see one of your camera shots in a Yale Athletics highlight video,” said field hockey midfielder Sarah King ’22, who works with the broadcast team as an assistant director and camera operator. “Don’t get me wrong, pulling together a good broadcast can be tiring and stressful, especially if we’re short-staffed or experiencing technical issues. Knowing we put on a seamless production is a win in itself. I miss broadcasting Yale games, matches and meets. It was something I looked forward to every weekend.”

131 Yale events were broadcast during the shortened 2019-20 year for athletics, and the Ivy League has suspended all athletic competition for the fall semester.

Ryan Chiao | ryan.chiao@yale.edu