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).