On Friday night, there will be five different television, radio and internet stations broadcasting local high school football games in Arizona.
In preparation for his showdown against Hamilton, Chandler quarterback Brett Hundley has been placed off-limits to the media for the week.
On Tuesday, Chandler’s coach, Jim Ewan, and athletic director, Dave Shapiro, spent an hour on a teleconference with ESPN announcers and met with representatives from the Great American Rivalry Series, among their other duties.
While the age of high school athletes remains the same, it’s clear the media exposure — and pressure — is growing rapidly.
“The exposure is priceless,” Shapiro said. “Is it overblown? I’m not 100 percent sure.”
ESPN2 is descending onto Chandler in preparation for the game between No. 1 Hamilton and No. 2 Chandler, a pair of teams with state title aspirations and marquee players.
The outlet is bringing a crew of 30 people, extra lighting and, of course, a national cable audience.
The nation’s preeminent sports station first began dipping into the high school scene when LeBron James took the country by storm at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron, Ohio in the early 2000s.
Following the interest shown in James’ exploits, the network waded in deeper. Instead of highlighting the few recognized stars, it took a chance on lesser-known teams and players.
“College fans started to wonder, ‘Who’s next?’” said ESPN Rise senior vice president James Brown. “So we began to get into high school events, period.”
This summer, ESPN televised 7-on-7 summer league football and it continues to invest in the high school athletics scene.
“There’s a market,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “Trust me, they’re not going on ESPN because they’re losing money.”
Local stations Cox-7 and Fox Sports Net Arizona have also joined the fray. Shapiro said he was told that last year’s Chandler-Hamilton matchup on FSN outdrew the Coyotes.
Radio stations and websites — including Varsity.evtrib.com — are also amping up the coverage, with live audio, streams and chats from around the state.
Between recruiting websites, newspapers, television and radio, high school athletics is already becoming big business, but Belles hasn’t found the onslaught of attention too distracting. His team has played several nationally prominent games in the past few years, but views the recognition as a positive.
“Guys get worked up by saying it’s a distraction,” Belles said. “How many times does a kid get interviewed every year? It’s a big thrill for the kid.”
Brown downplays the exploitation angle as well.
“When I think back to when I was playing high school sports, my biggest kick was seeing my name in the paper,” he said. “For them to have a (television) record of them playing, I think it’s ten-fold to having a name in the paper.”
Ewan said this week has been hectic, and he admits it has kept him more on edge than normal.
But once the game and the fanfare finishes, he will be glad a television station was here to document it all.
“Hopefully we can win, but it’ll be neat to look back on Friday night when it’s gone and soak it in,” Ewan said. “Most (of the players) won’t play football again after high school. So to be on national TV is something special for them.”