Column: Lack of TV for title games is bad business - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Column: Lack of TV for title games is bad business

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Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2009 10:06 pm | Updated: 2:50 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

We're reminded every day that sports is big business.

The Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees build $1 billion stadiums, the University of Oregon football team has a new Nike uniform for every game, it seems, and Notre Dame is on TV every week (please NBC, cancel that contract).

But we always viewed high school sports and our enjoyment of them as immune from business influences. Sadly, that's not the case.

Friday and Saturday will mark the first time since 1993 that the 5A Arizona state football championships won't be on television, at least in the Valley. The reason: simple business.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association is growing, morphing into something more than a glorified tournament organizer. It has corporate sponsors, business agreements and advertisers. It has a business plan. In many ways, the AIA is becoming much like the NFL and NASCAR and other sports entities that are taking more control over their content.

The AIA is not a for-profit business by any means, but as the number of schools in Arizona has grown, the AIA has had to grow, too. It is financially supported by the member schools, so if the AIA can get money elsewhere (like from its business relationships), that's a good thing.

But businesses have to look out for their own interests, and that takes us back to the fact that no playoff football games are on television.

Back in the summer, the AIA sat down with Cox Communications to work on a broadcast rights deal for this year's state football playoffs, something they have done together since 2001. But unlike the previous eight years, the two parties couldn't reach an agreement.

Among other things, Cox wanted the rights to the games it produced for 25 years. It wanted to be able to show those games live and then replay them on cable and the internet.

"We just wanted the right to put whatever we produce on our different platforms," said Ivan Johnson, the Cox Communications vice president of community relations and televideo. "The old agreement was we could show the live game and then two replays but no use on other platforms. We wanted to maximize the benefit."

But the AIA wasn't willing to give another business exclusive use of its championship games, especially for that long of a time and especially when the AIA was launching its own new Web site that offers streaming video of live sporting events and on-demand video of past events.

"What Cox needed, in order for their business model to work, were numerous things the AIA couldn't give up," AIA chief operations officer Chuck Schmidt said. "We came to the conclusion that neither side could afford to give up or take on what they wanted."

The AIA sat down with Cox Communications again in November to try to hammer out a last-minute deal, even on a game-by-game basis, but Cox had already set its budget for high school sports coverage. The AIA asked what it would cost to get the games on television and Cox came back with a figure.

"When talking $25,000-$30,000 production per game, that wouldn't be fiscally responsible on our end," Schmidt said. "It would be difficult for us in this economy to find commercial sponsors to cover those costs."

"At that late point, the only way we could get them on Cox 7 was for them to buy the air time," Johnson said. "They asked for a quote, and we just gave them the information."

FSN Arizona, which like Cox also aired regular-season football games this season, could not enter playoff negotiations because it already had commitments to the Phoenix Suns and Coyotes.

So the games won't be on television - only online at aia365.com - and no one is completely satisfied.

The teams and their fans, friends and families won't be able to tape the television broadcast to keep and cherish. Instead, they'll have to download the Internet broadcast.

Cox Communications loses a marquee event from a lineup of high school sports broadcasts that continues to grow to include regular-season basketball, soccer, softball and baseball games (It should be noted that Cox works directly with the individual schools when broadcasting regular-season games, not the AIA).

The AIA isn't satisfied either. True, the lack of TV coverage will only drive more traffic to the AIA Web site. But the AIA wanted a television deal - just not one that relinquishes certain rights.

In the end, there are no winners, only losers. And that is the people who love high school sports.

Online streaming video is a wonderful new venture. It opens up the games to friends and family across the country - and in many cases to relatives stationed overseas. You can't get that from a Cox television broadcast, which is limited to Maricopa County.

But online video should be a supplement to TV coverage, not a replacement. Huddling around a computer screen (people have complained about the quality of the online feeds) is not the same as watching the game on your big screen TV.

It's too bad the inability to put these games on TV came down to things like money and rights issues. But maybe we shouldn't be surprised, even at the high school level.  

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