Sports

For the second straight year, ESPN has brought its popular “College GameDay” television program to the University of Louisville.

For 15 weekends during college football season, the program broadcasts from the site of a big game.

Saturday night, the Louisville Cardinals, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson, host the defending national champions, the Clemson Tigers.

I visited campus this week to find out more about GameDay preparations and the show’s impact on the university. Listen in the player above.

Rick Howlett | wfpl.org

ESPN GameDay setup at U of L.

Under a steady Wednesday afternoon drizzle, on the front lawn of U of L’s Grawemeyer Hall, Judy Weiss looked on as workers unloaded plywood from a forklift. They were putting down a footprint for the GameDay set. Weiss is the show’s Senior Operations Producer.

“The director has a vision; he communicated that vision to us on Sunday when we came here for our site survey,” Weiss said. “And now the staging guys take over and give the director what he wants so that he’s looking through a lens and seeing all the pictures and everything he wants to see here.”

Ten trucks, a bus, and a crew of 65 people rolled into Louisville for GameDay, which airs for three hours Saturday morning. With cheering, sign-wielding fans in the background, host Rece Davis and the Gameday panel will talk football and predict the week’s winners and losers.

The U of L campus has been bustling since word came down that GameDay would be back, and the athletic department is a whirlwind of activity.

“Well, it’s melee. I would say it’s exuberance — you’re excited about what’s yet to come,” Julianne Waldron said with a laugh.

Waldron is the Associate Athletic Director for Marketing at U of L. She said it’s difficult to quantify all the benefits that GameDay, with a national audience of nearly two million viewers, brings to the university and the community. But she said there’s an obvious economic ripple effect.

“I can’t give you a direct metric,” she said. “I can tell you that anytime we’re put up on a national platform, it has a direct effect on our licensing revenues, our overall brand value, brand affinity. Those measures do show themselves through retail, through our licensing efforts that we do.”

Rick Howlett | wfpl.org

ESPN GameDay setup at U of L.

Waldron’s boss, Athletic Director Tom Jurich, has been cultivating national exposure for the school’s football program for a long time. Jurich jumped at the chance to play on TV when ESPN began airing games on weeknights.

“I remember 20 years ago when we started playing those games, we played any night we could because we thought that exposure would really plant the seeds to build a great program and give us the exposure and the branding that we needed — not only nationally but internationally, and I think it worked,” Jurich said.

GameDay producer Judy Weiss said ESPN’s partnership with the university has been mutually beneficial.

“They understand the value of what the show brings to the university, which is really important for them and for us,” she said.

Every week, GameDay’s highlight is former U of L coach and analyst Lee Corso’s prediction of which team will win the featured game — while he dons the head of the school’s mascot costume. When GameDay was in Louisville last year, Corso had a tough choice: U of L or second-ranked Florida State. Corso has worked at both schools and attended Florida State.

“It’s between my heart and my head,” he said. “I’m going with my head. Give me that Cardinal!”

U of L won the game, 63-20.

Louisville and Clemson will kick off at 8:12 p.m. Saturday. The game will be aired on ESPN’s parent network, ABC.

Rick Howlett is WFPL's Broadcast Managing Editor and also produces feature and general assignment radio stories.