Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series on the nature of BYU's relationship with ESPN. Part two discusses the nature of the relationship relative to programming and game-day productions. In preparation for this series, Ryan Tepples was an on-site observer of the game-day broadcast processes of ESPN and BYUtv.
BYU and ESPN really like each other. And nowhere is that more obvious than when it comes to the process of football broadcasting.
Provo, Utah, and Bristol, Conn., might be on opposite sides of the country, but the Cougars and worldwide leader in sports have a stable, long-term relationship that reaps benefits for both sides. Since the 2011 season when contract started, BYU has played all but three of its home games — road games fall under the opposing team’s TV deal — on the ESPN family of networks. Every home game, save an ABC regional broadcast last season against Oregon State, was broadcast nationally.
Having games available to fans has been a stated goal of Tom Holmoe and the BYU athletic department since the school made the move to independence.
Beyond access, BYU cited the primary reason for the move to independence and its subsequent deal with ESPN as exposure. BYU wants its name, institution, football product and the stories behind it to be heralded on the biggest stage possible.
And it’s coming to pass as more than 30 percent of BYU’s home football games have aired on ESPN proper, the sports network that drives ratings above all others. Holmoe is fond of pointing out that BYU is the ninth-most seen college football team in America.
Despite years of trying by CBS, NBC and Fox to take market share, all other cable sports network ratings pale dramatically in comparison to the ESPN family.
And for BYU, exposure goes beyond the football program. The school is also looking to drive interest in its TV network BYUtv, and by extension, its owner, the LDS Church.
But the ratings success and rebroadcasts only tell part of the story. There’s a lot more to the relationship between BYU and ESPN than just TV rights.
Behind the scenes on game day
Fans who tune in to see BYU on one of the ESPN networks probably think little about what goes into the broadcast.
And many may have yet to discover that in addition to its pre- and post-game shows, BYUtv does its own side-by-side broadcast of every home game for rebroadcast to its audience later in the evening.
“First and foremost it’s a partnership,” said Mikel Minor, senior coordinating producer of sports programming at BYUtv when describing the working relationship his group and ESPN have on game day.
“The collaboration with ESPN is great. We’re partners. We share cameras. We go into their truck; they’ll come into our truck. It’s a collaborative effort where we do work hand in hand to help each other’s product.”
Outside the northwest corner of Lavell Edwards Stadium on game day sit two TV production truck trailers. One is ESPN’s fairly inconspicuous rented unit while the other is BYUtv’s unmistakable rig nicknamed "Big Blue," adorned with images of BYU athletics and the network’s original programming.
Inside the ESPN truck and sprinkled throughout the stadium are between 60 and 80 seasoned veterans who do professional college football broadcasts for the sports network each weekend in cities across the country.
Side by side the ESPN guys are a mix of BYU broadcasting students and recent grads who are likewise producing their own product which airs as a rebroadcast.
While ESPN and BYUtv each have their own crew, cameras, microphones, on-air talent and overall autonomy, there’s a lot of synergy between the two groups that make both broadcasts better.
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