After months of replays and re-runs, the YES Network faced a challenge as things reopened around the U.S. — all of their teams playing at once. Not only did that create scheduling problems, as Alex Schiffer points out on The Athletic. It also had to be done and done well within the constraints of the pandemic with social distancing, masks and a staff that was working remotely.
But, no surprise, they aced it ... and in the process found some stars.
“This is not a problem you want to have,” John J. Filippelli, YES’ president of production and programming and executive editor, told Schiffer. The Yankees, Nets, Liberty and NYCFC were all raring to go. A juggling act didn’t begin to describe the situation.
YES did not go off the air during the height of the pandemic. Fillipelli decided to treat the time as a way to experiment ... with both talent and technology by launching “YES We’re Here,” a series on the air and on YouTube. It sustained a lot of us as players, coaches and front office staff took questions from the YES announcers, sometimes producing news.
“When are Ian Eagle and Michael Kay ever going to work together?” he said. “We put them together and they were awesome. The best way to face something like that is, instead of looking at it as a problem, let’s look at it as an opportunity.
“We tried a lot of different combinations, we gave people a lot of different roles, we tried different things technically. Everyone started using Zoom and we tried to use different technologies and, in the case of the remotes, we were using different camera shots and experimenting with different methods of sound and things that we normally would not get a chance to go near or would be very difficult to do under normal circumstances.”
Then there was the issue of advertising, you know, money.
“We just said to our advertisers, ‘You’re hanging with us, we’re going to hang with you,’” said Howard Levinson, YES’ senior vice president of ad sales.
The scheduling was complicated by the realization that its studio in Stamford, Connecticut, wasn’t up to the task. Not big enough. So YES set up studio operations at the home venues of the Yankees and Nets. Office space became control rooms with more than a dozen screens bringing in feeds. Even the bare floor at Barclays Center became a roller skating venue. (The less said about that the better.)
Then, there were the talent conflicts. Ian Eagle for example had commitments to TNT. So the experiment included pulling people out of their traditional jobs and giving them new responsibilities. Enter Michael Grady. Grady, who had shone on “YES, We’re Here,” went from sideline reporter to play-by-play and from doing just the Nets to doing the Yankees as well.
“We realized, watching him do that, that he’s got a lot of talent for a lot of different things, so why not try him on a Nets game?” Filippelli said of “YES, We’re Here.” “(Grady) has an incredible personality, he’s a lot of fun, and he showed during ‘YES We’re Here’ that he was so versatile.”
Fillipelli wasn’t the only one impressed.
“Calling a game with him was truly as smooth and easy a transition as I could’ve ever imagined,” Kustok told Schiffer. “It was like sitting with a friend watching a game. I felt like I’ve called a million games with him before.”
Things were not perfect. Logistical difficult intervened, as Schiffer noted.
When the Yankees had to postpone games in the final week of July due to COVID-19 outbreaks on the Marlins, the network was unable to move the Nets-Jazz game on July 27 off of Fox Sports Go, the station’s streaming partner, and tape-delay due to logistical issues.
“There’s so many moving parts and sometimes the notification is not there,” admitted Fillipelli. “And as much as you plan for things and think you have your arms around something, 10 minutes later it turns out that you don’t.”
It’s not over either. Next summer is likely to see another overlap ... and interest in the Nets in the New York region is likely to skyrocket with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the court instead of watching games from home. Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty star, is likely to be back on the court as well.
“Out of adversity comes opportunity and we were able to give a lot of people opportunity,” Fillipelli said. “This may be our finest hour in many ways, but it’s not without its challenges.”
- How YES Network went from no live sports to the busiest month in network history - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic New York