The coronavirus pandemic has affected sports fans in many ways.
Watching and attending sporting events can no longer be taken for granted after what has transpired over the past six months.
The upside for BYUtv Sports is that the crisis has prompted innovation and creativity in an attempt to provide content for voracious Cougar fans.
That’s what Dave Philips Jr., head of sports programming at BYUtv, has observed since taking his position in March.
“We had just come back from the West Coast Conference Basketball Tournament,” Phillips said. “We were working with CBS to do an NCAA Tournament bracket reveal with Mark Pope and the basketball team. We went from that to where there was nothing for six months.”
Well, not nothing, as it turned out. Phillips and his team put their heads together to come up with other content, such as the “Play-by-Replay” specials that highlighted a BYU team or memorable game.
BYUtv brought coaches and players in studio and banked the shows before stricter social distancing rules were established. They continued to produce “BYU Sports Nation” five days a week, implementing Zoom conference calls for interviews with Cougar players and coaches. Former BYU great Steve Young and others joined the program from their own homes and offices.
“Having guests on camera is not the same as having them on the phone so the pandemic kind of opened up that opportunity,” Phillips said. “We’ve just got to make the most of it. There was a lot of creativity over the summer. We usually have camps and workouts to talk about.”
When the BYU football team traveled to the Naval Academy last Monday, BYUtv was able to send a cameraman and sideline reporter Spencer Linton to Annapolis. The cameraman was allowed on the field but Linton was required to sit in the press box and provided Zoom updates for the pre- and postgame shows.
BYUtv had hoped to broadcast women’s soccer and volleyball but those plans have been put on hold because the WCC has postponed all fall events.
“We were gearing up until the WCC made that announcement,” Phillips said. “Now everything is focused on football.”
BYUtv is busy during the week with “Coordinators Corner” on Monday, “After Further Review” on Tuesday and the “BYU Football with Kalani Sitake” on Wednesday, hosted by play-by-play voice Greg Wrubell. Dave McCann hosts the “Countdown to Kickoff” and post-game shows along with color commentators David Nixon and Blaine Fowler.
BYU’s deal with ESPN includes the broadcast rights to one football game in 2020, though which game has not been determined yet. ESPN has been helpful in assisting Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe with scheduling efforts and continues to be a strong partner for the football program.
“I think it’s been a real indication of how good the partnership is,” BYU Associate Director of Communications Duff Tittle said. “We are the one team left that’s playing in the Pacific and Mountain time zones. There is appreciation on both sides that we are partners and work so closely together.”
Tittle said he’s also been impressed with how his staff has organized and innovated to keep the department running during the crisis. BYU has continued to provide Zoom conference calls for the media for the football team and other athletic programs.
“We have such a seasoned staff,” Tittle said. “Not only do we have people who have been here a long time but we’ve all been together a long time, too. We can mobilize very quickly. What we’ve learned over the past couple of months is that so much changes so quickly we have to think of other scenarios and contingency plans.”
Meanwhile, Phillips said BYUtv has been working with other Cougar sports teams for opportunities to air scrimmages, either on BYUtv or through its website. The BYU women’s soccer Blue and White game will be streamed on the BYUtv app at 7 p.m. MT on Saturday. The event is closed to the public.
Phillips said they have also talked to coaches from men’s and women’s volleyball, baseball and softball about airing scrimmages.
The NCAA is expected to approve a Nov. 25 start date for college basketball next week. Phillips said BYUtv would be interested in any “bubble” scenarios — similar to what the NBA has done — if the WCC chooses to go that route with its basketball schedule.
If fall sports such as women’s soccer and volleyball go to a spring schedule, BYUtv would be ready for that as well.
“We have two full control rooms and a TV truck, so we could do three events simultaneously,” Phillips said. “We would do everything we could to cover those games and make them available. We could do a football game over the air and soccer and volleyball on the web at exactly the same time.”
BYUtv has recently committed much of its on-air inventory to new shows — “Random Acts,” “Dwight in Shining Armor” and “Relative Race,” for example — but Phillips said that hasn’t diminished the number of hours of BYU sports programming available. BYUtv provides more than 700 hours of live HD content and 135 live sporting events each year, according to the website.
“BYU’s mission over the past few years has been that they wanted to build content,” Phillips said. “For a while BYUtv was just known for sports and reruns. As we developed that content, we made the sports content available for fans to watch on other devices. We do all we can to make sure we get every game either over the air or on the app. We haven’t decreased our sports at all. It’s still a very important part of BYUtv.”