High school sports coverage was once the dominion of local media, including newspapers, TV, radio, and community weeklies. They provided the features, scores, and game recaps that their audiences couldn't get anywhere else.
However, interest in high school sports is rising and coverage of teen athletes is emerging as a surprising growth category.
“High school sports is the college sports of 20 years ago, so everybody wants more coverage,” notes Brad Heath, editorial director of Tulsa, OK-based VYPE High School Sports Magazine. “There's a lot more [TV coverage] and huge amounts of interest on the Internet.”
Launched four years ago, VYPE is a print and Web-based outlet offering a mix of national trend stories, product coverage, and localized stories in 13 markets in the Midwest and East regions.
“Most of our writing and photography is freelance, and we never forget our main role is as a local niche publication,” Heath adds.
Faced with that increased competition both in print and online, local newspapers are allocating more space for high school sports, says Michael Kern, AE at Detroit-based Marx Layne & Co.
“There may be five or six local sports reporters covering 50 to 60 high schools, so they're now welcoming [of] the schools providing a few paragraphs on the game and alerting them to student-athletes who've overcome something or are poised to break a record,” says Kern, a former local sports reporter.
The increased interest is also transforming high school sports, at least in the case of leading teams and promising stars, into a regional or national story.
“Nationally, there is a growing number of [outlets] gaining attention, from Rivals.com and MaxPreps.com, which are college- recruiting focused, to ESPN Rise, which is more standard reporting,” says John Maroon, president of Baltimore-based Maroon PR.
Jon Segal, ESPN Rise editor-in-chief, notes that his outlet devotes some coverage to promising athletes likely to be future stars, but adds that high school athletics is still primarily a local story.
“A lot of the athletes we cover may be stars on a local level, but probably not in college,” he says. “We're very local, as well as national. We have magazines in local markets all over the country. For us, it's all about filling a void.“
Maroon adds that there are more opportunities for agencies to pitch high school sports-related stories, but the genre still has a lot of challenges.
“A lot of local high school sports reporters are resistant when you want to talk national... trends, especially if it [is] about a product,” he adds. “But we are seeing local and national interest in issues like the importance of background checks on coaches or hydration during the two-a-day summer practices that precede the football season.”
Pitching...High School Sports
Product coverage tied to high school sports can be challenging, unless it can be linked to general trends, like concussions among younger football players
Look online when pitching lower-profile high school sports, such as swimming and lacrosse, where there are plenty of niche sites devoted to specific sports
Leverage the off-the-field accomplishments of high school athletes as a way of getting coverage in the family or features sections