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.
Bringing the broadcasts together
It didn’t used to be that way. Before the current deal was in place, ESPN had a hands-off relationship with BYU broadcasting and figuratively kept the door to the truck shut. But in this new day of BYUtv — which now boasts first-class facilities, equipment and talent — the channels of communication are always open.
Mikel Minor, who comes to BYU from ESPN, spent years producing Sportscenter’s evening show and has assisted the relationship of mutual respect and collaboration. With that experience and the relationships he developed there over the years, he is able to bring credibility for BYUtv and rapport with the ESPN crews.
Not only that, he has assets to offer. For instance, ESPN makes use of extra camera angles BYUtv offers in their own broadcast, as it gives the on-site producer and director more content to work with.
After Saturday’s broadcast of BYU’s 38-20 victory over Georgia Tech, the producer for the ESPNU broadcast stopped by Big Blue to thank Minor and chat about the night. He joked that it would be great if BYUtv could send their jib cam — the north end-zone camera on a boom device that allows for nice high and low shots as well as wide pans and angles — to Waco for next week’s Baylor broadcast. ESPNU doesn’t have its own device and uses BYUtv’s when in Provo.
That story reflects the kind of relationship the two organizations have come to enjoy.
But what makes the broadcast relationship between ESPN and BYUtv valuable is not just working together toward a common goal, but the willingness to help each other in other ways as well.
Minor points out that BYUtv wants its viewers to watch the BYUtv pregame show, switch to ESPN for the game broadcast, then switch back to BYUtv for the post-game show. ESPN has assisted in this effort.
The “advancers” that ESPN produces for BYUtv each home game are a good example. These game-teaser clips are aired at the end of BYUtv’s pregame show and create a nice transition for viewers between channels.
That kind of collaboration is unique and was unpredictable when the whole deal was put together.
Keeping the lights on late
At the end of a game night, ESPN’s broadcast is complete and they pack up their truck and head home. BYUtv still has a post-game show to produce in studio and must put the finishing touches on their own broadcast, which typically airs at 9:30 p.m. MDT, after ESPN’s Saturday night ABC game is over.
Two separate professional, high-quality football game broadcasts are completed at Lavell Edwards Stadium every game day, each with its own unique purpose. But each is aided by the other.
And that's something you'll only find in Provo.
Ryan Teeples, twitter.com/SportsGuyUtah, is a marketing and technology expert, full-time sports fan, owner of Ryan Teeples Consulting Inc. (RyanTeeples.com) and regular contributor to LoyalCougars.com.
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