Friday, October 02, 2009

HS sports: 'one of the next great markets'

According to rankings, the biggest high school football game in the country tonight will be played in South Florida tonight and will -- courtesy of ESPN -- be aired for the nation to watch. Marketers from Nike and other major brands will be watching because, as an article in the Sun-Sentinel notes, they have "targeted high school sports as one of the next great markets." Nike moved into one of the high schools this week with a full-force marketing campaign aimed at students.
The Sun-Sentinel article suggests that ESPN's exposure of high school sports on a national level may be a "win-win" situation, as schools' travel costs are covered and they get a small sum of money for playing. But Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald correctly takes ESPN to task for exploiting the cheap labor at the high school level. He points out the obvious: ESPN is cultivating a potential goldmine by contriving "big-time" high school matchups, selling the audience and avoiding the astronomical rights fees it pays for college sports.
The implications are sickening. Do we really want to import the problems with academic integrity we have at the college level into public schools? As Grimm writes, "On Friday night, during ESPN's Old Spice High School Showcase Presented By Nike, the commodities will be offered up on national television, along with after-shave and athletic apparel."
On a related note, ESPN has also announced plans to launch a Web site devoted to coverage of girls' high school sports (beyond what it provides on RISE). Again, such a branded ("W") site could be a moneymaker for the net by allowing it to sell eyeballs not typically attracted to its products in large numbers. But it is likely that this idea will end up on ESPN's scrap heap: Making a female-focused, sport-focused media product that sells is an exceedingly difficult proposition (just ask the editors at SI Women or at Real Sports, for instance).

1 comment:

Joe Gisondi said...

ESPN is not doing anything different than what local newspapers have done for years – namely, use high school sports to sell product. ESPN is just taking this to a national level. The prep beats is among the best at any newspaper, offering fresher stories and players who are not jaded by media coverage and pushy boosters. Not sure that will change too much at most programs such as those here among the corn fields of in east-central Illinois. I also think a program featuring females would do much better than expected either, but would not be a ratings monster. [It would have to be better than the mediocre Rise.] Girls prep sports do well at the local level, helping seel newspapers. A big problem for female sports, though: young girls do not watch or read about games. While young boys watch baseball, checking on stats and reading about the teams in print and online, young girls rarely watch softball, meaning girls at these younger levels do not understand the concepts and strategies nearly as well as boys do. I noticed this coaching travel softball teams the past several years. Hopefully, this will change. But I do agree that preps are the next 'big' beat. Preps are hyperlocal, despite what ESPN would broadcast, and they are an important part of communities, especially the smaller ones. And national media cannot cover these smaller towns and beats at the same level as the local media.