ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” pregame show has traveled to 80 cities in its 25 years of on-location history, with one conspicuous absence – the biggest city of all.
That will change on Sept. 23, when for the first time the location will be New York City — specifically Times Square — a city not known for following college football as closely as most of the nation does.
“It’s special because I’m from [the area], but it’s by no means the reason,” ESPN vice president of production Lee Fitting, who grew up in the North Fork town of Orient, said Thursday. “People ask me: Where is your favorite place to bring ‘College GameDay’? My answer always is the same: Any place we’ve never been, and New York City and Times Square fall into that category.”
The closest the show ever has come to Manhattan before was West Point. Usually “GameDay” emanates from the site of an important game later that day. In this case, it is tied to no game in particular.
Fitting credited former host Chris Fowler with pushing in recent years to bring the show to New York. Things finally came together on a weekend that Fitting acknowledged is a “soft week in the college football schedule.”
The plan is to treat the program mostly as a straight pregame show but also to highlight both the city’s place in college football history and its many Saturday gathering places for alumni and fans of certain colleges.
Regarding the former, Fitting rattled off a number of historical college football moments in city history, including the 1924 Army-Notre Dame game at the Polo Grounds that inspired Grantland Rice’s “Four Horsemen” lead, Knute Rockne’s “Win One for the Gipper” speech at the 1928 Army-Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium and the scoreless tie between Army and Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium in 1946.
He also noted that many famous football figures are from the city, including Sid Luckman, who grew up in Brooklyn and played at Columbia.
“It’s our job to educate the viewers on that,” he said.
Of the latter, Fitting said, “I don’t think most of the country has any idea that that goes on every Saturday, that alumni in New York are in a given bar rooting on their team.”
Still, Fitting said, “It is not going to be a three-hour infomercial on New York City and football in New York City . . . It’s a college football pregame show – period.”
Mostly, New York was attractive because it is something different.
The main set will be between 43rd and 44th Streets, parallel to Seventh Avenue, with the backdrop of the set facing 44th Street. “College Football Live” will originate from the Times Square set on Sept. 22.
“People ask: Why bring ‘GameDay’ to New York City? My answer is very simple: Why not? We like to do things that are unpredictable . . . There’s no way that this won’t be fun. We like to be fun.”