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Sale hits the Internet

As advertising dollars grow thanks to school sports sites, amount of scholarships aren’t growing

Posted: August 13, 2009 9:17 p.m.
Updated: August 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
The internet and advertising

A simple Google search for “high school sports” yields about 187,000,000 results.

The Web site Maxpreps.com has pages for almost 25,000 high school teams.

Rivals.com has 668 Class of 2010 player profiles – for quarterbacks alone.

It’s safe to say that information about high school sports is readily available.

“I think there is definitely a lot of growth,” says Mark Tennis, executive editor of CalHiSports.com. “It was more focused 20 years ago. You would see newspapers with a lot more coverage. Some of the newspaper coverage has been cut back in recent years, but it’s been more than made up for.”

The people being covered have taken notice, too.

“On high school campuses, I don’t think athletes get any more attention now than they did 20 years ago,” says Golden Valley co-athletic director Chris Printz. “I think what is different is the evolution of the internet. There are sites devoted to talking about high school sports.”

Tennis says that one of the driving factors behind coverage of high school sports is advertising.

Young boys and girls age 13-19, he says, are a very desirable market.

“They’re the ones that are fueling some of that growth,” he says. “The kids that are on the internet all the time, you want them to go to your Web sites, and the way you do that is write about them and cover them.”

The advertisements on high school sports sites range from car companies like Ford and BMW to retail chain stores like Foot Locker and Sears.

All have one thing in common: they are aimed at younger consumers.

Since high school sports sites have prospered, the advertising dollars have followed.

The nature of the audience, however, makes it a tricky sell.

“The problem with high school is you only have your audience for a short time,” Tennis says. “The kids graduate; the parents leave. It’s tough to keep them all interested, and it’s a very difficult audience because it changes so quickly.”

Additionally, the audiences vary based on what is being sold.

Recruiting sites, Tennis says, are aimed more at fans who are trying to keep up with the top prospects across the country.

Other outlets are geared more toward the parents and players, and some shoot for a local audience.

“They’re not necessarily aiming for the same audience,” Tennis says. “Local newspapers are aiming for their local audience. A combination of factors gets all these sites to get a lot of hits, and that in turn leads to a lot of coverage.”

Regardless of who is being targeted, the coverage of high school sports is growing exponentially, and advertising has seeped into the picture.

The time when money mattered little in high school sports is over.

The selling

High school sports are officially an enterprise.

Football and basketball rake in the cash, and plenty of athletes in the other sports either help their teams to the playoffs or further their careers in college.

The public has taken notice – and the media has taken advantage.

It’s essentially the bottom block in a sports structure that has been commercialized from the top over the past two decades.

The big growth in popularity, however, has not led to big growth in opportunities for the athletes.

“I think the sad part about it is there aren’t more opportunities,” Printz says. “There’s nothing different. There’s not significantly more scholarships available now than 20 years ago. What’s different is the marketing of scholarships.”

Scholarships are basically the only way for athletes to make money in a climate that’s making money off them.

But the commercialism has reached scholarships, too.

That means kids and parents must be careful of both who they listen to and what they hear.

“I think ‘scholarship’ is one of the most misunderstood words ever,” Printz says. “People think they grow on trees and everybody gets one. Scholarships pay for a very small portion of your tuition. If you’re looking at anything other than basketball and football, it’s not a free ride.”

Nothing much is free anymore in the world of high school sports.

Not with so much at stake between athletic programs and the companies that provide services to them.

The sale is on.

“It’ll continue on the same track to some degree,” Tennis says.

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