Fifth Estater

Taking Tennis Fans Behind the Velvet Ropes

Producer Jamie Reynolds leads ESPN’s team at Wimbledon with his outside-the-lines game plan of ‘discovery and access’ 6/25/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Jamie Reynolds

Title:

VP, event production, ESPN

Education:

B.S., Biology, minor in English, Bucknell U., 1982

Employment Highlights:

N.W. Ayer, account executive, 1982-83

ESPN, associate producer, 1983-88

Independent producer, 1988-97

ESPN, coordinating producer, 1997-2000

ESPN, senior coordinating producer, 2000-06

Current title since 2006

Personal:

Born Nov. 12, 1959; wife, Laura; son Hunter, 14; son Connor and daughter Mackenzie, 11 (twins)

Two summers ago, as ESPN began stepping up its drive to
become the biggest global television player in tennis and
premier broadcaster of the sport’s four marquee Grand Slam
tournaments, VP/event production Jamie Reynolds gathered
his team and served up a stiff challenge.

“I don’t want to be an observer anymore,”
Reynolds recalls telling his producers, directors
and on-air talent. “You’ve got to show me
something new besides a rectangle with two
players running back and forth. Get me into
their apartments. Get me in their car ride going
to the big match. Getting treatment in the
trainer’s room. Interacting
with fans. Make me feel
immersed in the event.”

And so began a long,
sometimes road-blocked
process of working with
organizers of the Australian,
French and U.S.
Opens and Wimbledon,
as well as the players,
to grant ESPN access to
places and situations often
experienced by viewers of
higher-profile sports, but
rarely visited before in the
more sheltered world of
pro tennis.

“We started breaking
down the walls in 2011,
and we have stayed aggressive,”
says Reynolds, who
oversees all ESPN tennis coverage and is leading
a team of 225 people for the network’s first-ever exclusive live coverage of Wimbledon
beginning June 25. “We are now getting into
those stadium hallways and locker rooms. We
are getting behind the velvet ropes.”

While slugfest Grand Slam finals matches
between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have
supplied plenty of on-court drama and ratings
points for ESPN over the past year, journalismfueled
“discovery and access” is Reynolds’ personal
passion. The network’s change-of-pace,
behind-the-scenes segments offering glimpses
of players’ lives off the court—Reynolds calls
them “BTS bumps”—deepen viewers’ connection
with the athletes and keep eyeballs engaged
in a broadcast, particularly in the multiscreen
environment most sports fans play in.

“It’s all about making you sit up and take
notice if you have two screens going,” Reynolds
says. The centerpiece of the bumper bits is
an extended montage that opens each day’s
coverage, setting up story lines and the match
lineup, backed with different versions of
ESPN’s tennis anthem, 30 Seconds to Mars’
“Kings and Queens.”

Breaking the rules on how to cover a sport
is nothing new for Reynolds, who got his start
at ESPN back when there weren’t many rules
at all. After working two
summers for ABC Sports
in the early ’80s while
attending Bucknell University,
helping out on
football, golf and tennis
telecasts, Reynolds landed
an associate producer gig
at four-year-old ESPN in
1983. His assignments
included the network’s first pro football package
(the short-lived USFL)
and “aqua” sports including
sailing and yachting
(the New Jersey native is
an avid sailor and taught
the sport in college).

“At the beginning, I was
lucky to be involved in a
lot of sports where ESPN
really had no template,” Reynolds says. “It was
an opportunity to take my first-hand knowledge
and turn our coverage into something special.”

Shortly after helming ESPN’s reporting on
the America’s Cup yachting championship in
1987, Reynolds formed his own Boston-based
production company. For nine years, he packaged
TV coverage of sailing regattas around
the world and produced events for ESPN, ABC
and NBC Sports.

In 1997, a call came from ESPN to come
home and run another new property for the
network—the X Games. The success of the
event among young viewers led ESPN to make
a major commitment to action sports, and to
Reynolds; in 2000, he moved up to senior
coordinating producer for action sports programming
and manager of remote productions
for NBA telecasts. He remains involved with
the X Games franchise (although this year, the
event conflicts with Wimbledon).

“Those of us at ESPN who have been attached
to ‘X’ from the get-go, we kind of have ‘godfather’
status around here,” Reynolds says.
“People come to us and ask, ‘What would you
do differently with this [sport’s coverage] to
make us better?’”

ESPN, which this year is taking over Wimbledon’s
semi! nals and finals weekend after
a 43-year run on NBC, is asking Reynolds to
do something that’s never been done by the
Worldwide Leader—produce live coverage
of an event on both ESPN and ESPN2 at the
same time. For key late-round matches from
July 2-4, Reynolds will oversee two full production
and talent teams for at least 14 hours
per day of simultaneous “cross court” coverage.
You could get tired just thinking about it.
“Our whole [ESPN] family will be on rocket
fuel for those three days—it’s going to be a
heck of a ride,” says the proud papa, clearly
relishing the grind ahead.

Reynolds’ energy and his enthusiasm for
tennis is particularly inspiring to his on-air
talent roster, which is filled mostly with former
top pros and coaches including Chris Evert,
Brad Gilbert and Darren Cahill.

“It’s incredible, since Jamie doesn’t really have
a tennis background,” says Patrick McEnroe,
who has been covering the sport for ESPN
since 1995. “The behind-the-scenes coverage
Jamie introduced has really humanized these
superstar players, and it has changed what
watching tennis on TV is all about. I get more
responses on Twitter when we run those pieces
than for anything else that we do.”

ESPN’s tennis coverage earned two Sports
Emmy Award nominations this year, for camera
work and editing. It’s nice recognition for
a sport with meager production budgets compared
to the Big Four, but Reynolds is hungry
to bag a trophy in 2013. And the network’s
new 12-year, reported $480 million rights deal
with Wimbledon secures a long-term relationship
that sets up the producer and his team
to keep pushing the boundaries of what fans
can experience.

“There are still a great deal of things that go
on at a Grand Slam tennis event that people
have never seen, unless you’re an athlete, a
trainer, a boyfriend-girlfriend or spouse,”
Reynolds says. “Scenes where the viewer really
can feel that they are in the moment, that they
have the best seat in the house. That’s what
we’re after. Discovery and access will continue
to set us apart.”

E-mail comments to
bmoran@nbmedia.com

Jamie Reynolds

Title:

VP, event production, ESPN

Education:

B.S., Biology, minor in English, Bucknell U., 1982

Employment Highlights:

N.W. Ayer, account executive, 1982-83

ESPN, associate producer, 1983-88

Independent producer, 1988-97

ESPN, coordinating producer, 1997-2000

ESPN, senior coordinating producer, 2000-06

Current title since 2006

Personal:

Born Nov. 12, 1959; wife, Laura; son Hunter, 14; son Connor and daughter Mackenzie, 11 (twins)

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