Next Sports Media Frontier: High School Sports

IMG_0520I live in Spokane, Washington (I took this picture above)

No, we’re not near Seattle. We’re closer to Canada than we are to Seattle.

Spokane is the home of Gonzaga basketball. Home to minor league hockey and baseball (Bobby Brett owned Spokane Chiefs and Spokane Indians). Home to AFL football (Spokane Shock). And, it’s the second home of Pullman based, Washington State University (Cougar sports fans). There are also plenty of fans for the Seattle professional sports teams (Paul Allen owned Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders). Yes, there are plenty of Seattle Mariners fans too (shhh, don’t tell anyone).

We love our sports. We are just as passionate as any other fan in say Pittsburgh, New York or Boston. And just like those fans, we crave sports news. It is with interest that I am watching a change in the Spokane sports media scene that is actually taking place across America.

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Recruiting is big business. Millions of dollars are being spent to “upgrade facilities” at universities all around the country. Why? To attract recruits, of course. Earlier this month, the Business Of College Sports website posted some numbers of schools’ spending. For example, the University of Minnesota has a $190 million plan to upgrade their athletics facilities (multi-purpose building and football facility upgrades). Ideally, construction will take six to eight years. That seems like an eternity in recruiting but players in seventh, eighth or ninth grades now, could see the benefits of those upgrades during their time in school. And that means coaches can use those plans as part of their recruiting pitches.

In 2011, PBS studied the spending by colleges with this 2011 feature on Ohio University. Budget deficits be damned, spending on sports could not be touched when it came to cuts. The bigger the school, the bigger the budget. The higher a school goes in college athletics, the greater the need to spend money to “keep up”.

Keeping up in what? And with who?

Keeping up with rival schools in their state and conference. Most importantly, keeping up with expectations of fans and alumni.

Rivalry and expectations. These are the motivating factors in recruiting. Winning on the recruiting trail can mean winning on the field. Look at teams like Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon. Teams who have been in or near the top 10 in recruiting rankings for years are translating that to wins on the field.

And wins on the field mean big $$$$.

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Recruiting is a process business. Gathering knowledge and watching games/film of high school (or even middle-school nowadays) players is the key to building winning programs.

Scout.com, Rivals.com, 24/7 sports – all are at the top of the heap in providing recruiting insight to fans, schools and media. They provide key stats, rankings and more (for a fee, of course). Add in a new social network, inRecruit, that is growing in popularity to the mix and its no wonder the demand is high. Fans want the knowledge. These services provide it. The demand is there.

Which brings me back to the local sports media.

700espnhs TwitterNW Preps Now Twitter

Both 700 ESPN and NW Preps Now are beginning an enhancement to their already stellar high school sports coverage. The above two Twitter accounts were established this month. The links listed in their Twitter bios link to websites devoted to their high school reports. 700 ESPN will use their KXLY broadcast group television/radio resources (as well as fan support) to cover high school sports in the Eastern Washington and North Idaho areas. NW Preps Now will cover the same areas through their partnership with The Spokesman Review newspaper through their parent outlet, KHQ television broadcast group (both owned by Cowles Publishing Company).

There is still a measure of untapped potential in high school sports coverage. In Spokane, there are a small number of news outlets. We have the big four affiliates (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX). We have one major newspaper (Spokesman-Review). The competition for ratings is tight with so few outlets. Ratings equals potential advertising dollars. If Rivals, Scout and 24/7 can make money providing information on high school sports (albeit for recruiting purposes), then imagine what a local news outlet can make.

More than anything, what these two local moves confirms what I’ve noticed over the last few weeks. More news outlets are jumping into the fray with specific sites (and social media accounts) devoted solely to high school sports. Or, if they already had them, they’re upgrading the experience for fans with sleek, new re-designs. A few examples:

DELAWARE, PENNSYLVANIA

Delaware website

CONNECTICUT

GAMETIME CTALABAMA

AL.com story on hs site

Cities such as ATLANTA, CLEVELAND, or a state such as OREGON also are seeing revamped and enhanced prep coverage.

But where will of this lead? As long as football maintains its popularity, we may see Texas-sized stadiums on high school campuses around the country:

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FINAL THOUGHT: If football wasn’t as big as it was, I don’t know that we’d see news outlets devoting such resources to high school coverage. Granted, I’m in the minority but following high school sports and recruiting is not my thing on a personal level. Professionally, I see it’s all part of the equation. In media, just like in recruiting, the desire to be on top and garner those $$$ is part of the business. It provides another potential revenue stream for tv and radio broadcasters. If recruiting-specific sites can make big money, news outlets would be smart to at least attempt these new ventures. Their success, however, will depend on how much of their own time and effort the expend on it.

Just like with social media, you can’t do it halfway.

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CadChica Sports

One comment on “Next Sports Media Frontier: High School Sports

  1. Tim Clarke III says:

    Great article, interesting topic. I am a Rivals subscriber and a recent inRecruit.com member as well. The stakes are VERY high for college sports recruiting and its no wonder that schools are spending BIG money to recruit the best athletes. Basically its because their jobs are literally on the line!

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