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ESPN’s Gymnastics Creative Soars and Brings the Light to “Friday Night Heights”

“The growth [on ESPN platforms] is such a testament to the product on the floor and our teamwork over the years to continue to elevate a sport that deserves our attention and respect.”

For eagle-eyed gymnastics viewers, ESPN’s promotional creative utilized across ESPN platforms received a new look in the offseason, including SEC Network’s Friday Night Heights franchise. The original toolbox – created and produced in 2015 following the launch of SEC Network – featured now-ESPN commentator and Olympic gymnastics great Alicia Sacramone Quinn. Nearly a decade later, the team behind that look went back to the drawing board for a new vision for the 2023 season and beyond.

ESPN gymnastics coordinating producer Nick Rud and producer Jonathan Weber of ESPN’s Grande & Leonard came up with the original creative in 2015, and the duo helped assemble the team who put together the latest look and feel that debuted in January.

“We knew that we wanted to mature the theme of continuing to anonymously feature real gymnasts performing authentically,” Weber said. “Our goal for Friday Night Heights is always to elevate the SEC brand through authentic imagery, and for that we still needed the skills our gymnasts provided. The original concept was very dark, cool, moody, but this time we wanted to bring the anonymous gymnasts into a very bright setting, surrounded by light to really showcase their performances. We wanted to leave dark tones and really allow it to feel light and airy, with the gymnasts taking center stage, not surrounded by shadows.”

Grande & Leonard producer Jonathan Weber
ESPN associate producer Bayley Zarrehparvar (L) works with Christian Ivanov (R) of Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy

A full crew of four dozen ESPN staffers and contractors teamed up to conceptualize this new toolbox, including executing a multi-day shoot at the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Norman, Okla., home of gymnastics legend and ESPN gymnastics commentator Bart Conner. A pair of well-known former collegiate gymnasts, whose identities will be revealed during ESPN’s NCAA Championships coverage in April, took part in the shoot with the guidance of ESPN’s passionate and well-versed production crew, including longtime gymnastics associate producer and lead graphics producer Bayley Zarrehparvar.

“I have been lucky to be part of our gymnastics coverage for many years, which has allowed me to be very familiar with gymnasts who recently finished their NCAA careers,” Zarrehparvar said. “Unlike other sports, gymnastics is not one that you can play in your backyard, so we had to deeply consider the safety and ability of the athletes when performing dangerous skills. I wanted to find gymnasts that could balance unbelievable strength with effortless presentation. There is a sweet spot between the two that creates a certain magic we wanted to capture in super slow motion.”

Once the shoot was complete, Weber and the Grande & Leonard team got to work on creating various production, promotional and marketing elements, as the imagery is used for everything from commercials, drop-in promotions in content time, email blasts, web banners, social media graphics and more. The material gets edited into a stylized look that “hopefully will define the personality of Friday Night Heights for years to come,” Weber noted. “On the production side, we are working so that the elements are the core defining characteristic of a gymnastics broadcast. Ideally, we’ll elevate the franchise of Friday Night Heights with this look, draw attention to it, and create a memory in our audiences’ minds that really draws the recognition we are establishing.”

Rud, an original producer on ESPN’s gymnastics coverage and Weber’s creative teammate for the initial toolbox, returns to the sport in 2023 and has long been a champion for gymnastics and the passion of the community it serves.

“Seeing us grow from when we first started doing live gymnastics for the first time in 2014 to the amount of meets and exposure [the sport] has now with all the programming windows and social following is incredible, and I’m thankful to be a small part of that,” Rud commented. “The cooperation from the athletes, coaches and the gymnastics community as a whole is just tremendous, and it feels like one team all pulling in the same direction. These athletes and this sport deserve all the coverage and spotlight we can give them, and the on-air product speaks for itself.”

Ivanov (L) and ESPN coordinating producer Nick Rud (R)

ESPN vice president of production Kate Jackson is now at the helm of the sport on ESPN, and the TV veteran sees nothing but opportunity ahead for the sport across ESPN platforms.

“College gymnastics is one of the top five fastest growing women’s sports at ESPN and it was the top trending women’s sport on ESPN’s social media last year,” Jackson noted. “I have been lucky to work on several rapidly growing properties at ESPN, including F1 and the NCAA Women’s College Basketball Tournament. We have an amazing team full of passion for this sport and it shows up in every show we do. NIL and social media are helping bring more fans to our coverage every week and the production team is ready to welcome them!”

ESPN’s coverage of the sport has already seen a plethora of perfect scores, viral routines, and jaw-dropping skills this season, but it’s the power, athleticism and grace that shines through each performance and into every broadcast.

“When you watch a gymnastics meet, there isn’t a practical way to practice what you just saw,” Zarrehparvar finished. “The closest thing to ‘doing gymnastics’ is walking across the sidewalk or flipping on a trampoline. That untouchable quality makes it so special. The growth [on ESPN platforms] is such a testament to the product on the floor and our teamwork over the years to continue to elevate a sport that deserves our attention and respect.”


SEC Network Marketing

  • Michelle Berry
  • Lauren Taylor
  • Hannah Milby
  • Taylor Woods

Gymnastics Production

  • Kate Jackson
  • Nicholas Rud
  • Bayley Zarrehparvar


  • Matthew Cheron
  • Jonathan Little
  • Thomas Hamilton

ESPN Creative Studio

  • Grayson Sedory
  • Jason Sharkey
  • Ray Palagy

Grande & Leonard

  • Ryan Campbell
  • Chris McClure
  • Mike Dominguez
  • Cheryl DiCarlo
  • Ted Saland
  • Brandon Weigand
  • Janene Monty
  • Jonathan Weber
  • Ashley Hodge

Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy

  • Bart Conner
  • Christian Ivanov
  • Paul Ziert

Core Production Crew

  • Director – Barrett Esposito 
  • Co-Director of Photography – John Taggart
  • Co-Director of Photography, Manhattan Place Entertainment – Steve Cohen
  • Line Producer/Production Manager, Manhattan Place Entertainment – Jamie Cohen
  • ESPN Images/Photographer – Scott Clarke
  • Gaffer – Leo Alvarez
  • Production Coordinator – Taylor Mullins
  • Production Assistants – Jada Merritt, Daniel Cochran
  • 1st ACs – Brian Walker, Jeff Marks
  • 2nd AC – Tanner Powell
  • DIT – Justin McKee
  • Best Boy Electric – Brian Blagowsky
  • Electric – Blak Bennett, Titus Fox, Aaron Bracetty
  • Key Grip – Greg Price
  • Best Boy Grip – Chris Phelps
  • Grips – Nick Jacobs, Jason Oser
  • Driver/Swing – Christian Baker
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