Old games for new eyes: Filling Yale’s broadcast void
With no live competition, rebroadcasts of old games are bringing historic victories back to life with a fresh coat of paint.
If it were a regular season, Yale football’s Team 148 would be gearing up to take on Princeton this weekend. Instead, Team 118 will take to the field once more — albeit virtually — in a re-airing of its 34–7 win over the Tigers from 1990.
The cancellation of games this fall has left a void in what would normally be a tightly packed broadcast schedule. While the Yale Bowl may sit dormant for the rest of the season, Yale Athletics’ weekly rebroadcasts on Facebook and YouTube means that fans around the world are only a click away from the pomp and energy typically associated with the Bulldogs’ events.
“When the decision [to cancel the rest of the spring season] was made we had to circle back and say, ‘Okay — how can we replace some of the content that we’re normally going to have?’” Yale Athletics Video Producer Evan Ellis ’12 said. “That’s kind of where the re-air piece kind of came about.”
The first rebroadcast took place back in March, following the sudden termination of the spring season. A replay of the 2018 women’s lacrosse game against Harvard was shown, followed by a separate airing of the 2017 Yale-Harvard regatta. Each of them featured newly recorded interviews with coaches and former student-athletes, providing past plays with a fresh coat of paint.
The two events proved successful enough that, following the Ivy League’s announcement to cancel fall-semester competition, plans were quickly drawn up to continue the model into the fall, re-airing old games for teams that would have normally received coverage.
Women’s lacrosse, crew and field hockey have all been given airtime thus far, while production has begun on volleyball and soccer. Still, football has dominated the broadcast schedule, with eight games already re-aired.
“For football, I wanted to recreate a schedule,” Ellis said. “We had a schedule that was going to be in place, and we wanted to recreate that schedule as close as we can so that we can celebrate football. It’s a big alumni piece, a big community piece, and if there’s not going to be Yale football this fall, how else can we give that experience to our fans?”
Graduate Hotels helped to sponsor the football broadcasts. According to New Haven general manager Dominic Ruggieri, the aim of the partnership is to “create an experience that will provide fans near and far with the familiar and nostalgic tradition of cheering on their favorite teams from throughout the years.”
Providing such an experience is not a straightforward task. Due to licensing limitations, games can also only be used if they were not produced for and originally aired on ESPN, which rules out many big-ticket matchups that took place in recent years. In order to fill the “schedule,” Ellis dug through Yale Athletics archives and digitized old reels and TV tapes — with some even dating back to the 1930s.
The oldest game re-shown so far was a 1984 match against Dartmouth. The retro footage was displayed side by side with interviews from John Zanieski ’85, Otto Wimer ’85 and Bill Moore ’85. According to Ellis, discussions with the former players did not revolve around the game, but focused on topics like “Why did you come to Yale?” and “What makes Yale special to you?”
Head coach Tony Reno, who served as a Yale assistant from 2003 to 2008 before being hired as head coach in early 2012, sees the interviews and old games as “allow[ing] for both fans and alumni to re-engage with [the program].”
“I think it adds another element to it and it’s given folks an opportunity to catch back up on some of the great games that have happened over the history of this program,” Reno said. “It’s been really unique to see some of those games that I was an assistant coach for — it’s brought back a lot of memories of all the great players that I’ve had the opportunity to coach and the great contests that I am so fortunate to have been a part of.”
Over the course of the fall semester, 10 historic Ancient Eight football battles will be shown again. The “season” began with a 2017 home victory against Holy Cross on Sept. 18, and the Elis will complete it with an inevitable win against the Crimson next week.
“The Dogs are going to be undefeated in 2020,” Ellis said. “I know that sounds facetious, but we picked games that we won. We picked milestone games. It’s basically a combination of: did we win, who are we playing and what story can we tell from this game.”
Ellis said he does not know whether the re-airs will continue if sports return. On Thursday evening, the Ivy League announced the cancellation of all winter sport competitions and the postponement of spring sport competitions until at least the end of February. Still, many of the old tapes dug up from the archives will be incredibly useful in the years to come.
“This archival footage that we’re finding and we’re digitizing will be things that we can continue to use in our social media content, our Ivy League content, our website content and our Ivy League on ESPN content moving forward,” he said.
Next week, Yale Athletics will host a weeklong virtual celebration in lieu of the annual Harvard-Yale game. Five different games dating back to 1984 will be shown and a documentary on the 2019 edition of The Game will also be released at the end of the week.
When Yale meets Princeton on Friday, Team 118 will win by 27 points — for the second time — in a re-airing of their 1990 match.
Jared Fel contributed reporting.
Ryan Chiao | firstname.lastname@example.org