Cable Network Drops High-School Sports Broadcasts

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A novel two-year-old enterprise aimed at bringing local high-school sporting events to a national audience has been discontinued.

SportsChannel America, a cable network, last month announced it would not enter a third season of broadcasting weekly high-school games on a string of regional cable channels.

The venture, which critics charged would taint high-school sports just as national exposure had corrupted college athletics with its promise of financial rewards, was unable to attract corporate sponsorship.

Only Gatorade, a soft-drink manufactured by the Quaker Oats Company, underwrote the programming for a single season. The company elected not to renew its sponsorship of the "High School Game of the Week" this year because it was no longer willing to underwrite the program singlehanded, a spokesman said.

Dan Martinsen, a spokesman for SportsChannel America, said the firm was disappointed it had not attracted additional sponsors.

Initially, football and basketball games were aired. Ice hockey, volleyball, and track and field events were added to the schedule last year.

Due to the structure of the cable system, Mr. Martinsen said, no ratings were available. Viewer response indicated significant interest in the local markets but minimal interest at the national level, he said.

The regional sports cable channel in the Washington-Baltimore area, for example, was one of the channels in the system. But, "if you had an Orioles game in September, you would never pre-empt an Orioles game for a high-school game in Kentucky," Mr. Martinsen said.

Even though the program will no longer air, the five-year contract between the cable firm and the National Federation of State High School Associations will remain intact, officials of both organizations said.

'Losing an Opportunity'

Warren Brown, assistant executive director of the federation, said his group had signed on to the agreement to promote the benefits of high-school sports to the public as well as to promote attendance. "We are losing an opportunity to do that," he said.

Once the contract expires or another agreement is reached, he said, the group would again like to have some kind of programming on the air.

Don Baird, president of School Properties U.S.A., a California-based company that markets high-school athletics for state associations, said that while SportsChannel produced good shows, he was not surprised that it failed to attract sponsors.

Interest in high-school athletics "is parochial," said Mr. Baird, a former SportsChannel adviser. "It is school specific; it is state specific. The only way there will ever be a national interest is when there is a national championship."

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 23

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Cable Network Drops High-School Sports Broadcasts
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