Evans senior Jabari Nelson had seen the play on game tape earlier in the week and when he saw it unfold in the Richmond Academy backfield, he acted quickly. The defensive star delivered a crushing tackle that drew gasps from the crowd at ARC Stadium during Evans’ road win last week.
Such highlight plays happen often each week at high school football games across the area, but this one was different.
This time the cameras were rolling.
The season opener for Evans and Richmond Academy was moved to Thursday night to accommodate a local television station, which aired the game live across the area. Cameras from different angles caught Nelson’s crushing blow and spent much of the remaining third quarter replaying the hit.
While live, play-by-play broadcasts have long been around for NFL and major college football, a growing trend has put several Augusta-area teams on the air in recent years, capturing top touchdown plays and devastating defensive stands.
“Overall it’s a good thing,” Evans coach Marty Jackson said. “It gets the team on TV and people will come up and say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV.’ That can be a good or bad thing, I guess, but I think the kids get excited about the opportunity.”
Media outlets have delved into producing television broadcasts of local high school football games with varying degrees of success.
Matt Lane, a sports radio personality in Augusta, is a color commentator for WJBF-Channel 6’s Game Night Live, which televises a high school football game every Thursday night throughout the season.
“We’ve had great feedback from the community,” Lane said. “The kids like it, and there’s the people who can’t get to a game, maybe elderly family members, who can watch the game on TV. It’s great for them.”
Another television crew does Friday night games of the week in Aiken County. Comcast was the first to air games in the Augusta area, offering tape-delayed coverage for its local OnDemand content, but the cable company stopped the production this year.
North Augusta traveled 300 miles round trip last week to play a noon Saturday game at North Gwinnett High School near Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets were seeking more exposure with a game promised to air on cable television. Though the event was preempted for a college game, it was still available to watch live on the Internet.
“That was the draw for us, to be on TV,” North Augusta coach Dan Pippin said.
Sports on television has been around nearly as long as television itself, though popularity picked up almost 30 years ago when ESPN became the first 24-hour sports
network. The success of live sports on television has grown so much that industry experts have pointed it out as a contributing factor for a drop in attendance at major college football games.
Regular-season attendance dropped in eight of the top 11 college football conferences last season, including the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten, according to a USA Today report. Bowl games saw their smallest crowds in 33 years.
“The technology and the camera angles and all the different games available lets you dictate everything,” Lane said.
Locally televised games don’t offer the high-definition quality, dozen or so camera angles and flashy graphics of bigger, better-funded production teams from major sports networks. But players and parents still enjoy seeing familiar faces on the screen.
“Kids are excited about seeing themselves on TV,” Lane said. “It shows you how much things have changed. You used to look at YouTube and be surprised to see anything like that, but now kids expect to see it. It’s all out there.”
But some local coaches are hesitant to fully agree to televised games. Shifting the schedule to Thursday night or Saturday afternoon alters a team’s weekly routine, which is a risk some coaches don’t want to take.
“It’s tough. Our kids typically don’t do well on a short week,” Richmond Academy coach Chris Hughes said before last week’s game. “But we’re at the same disadvantage Evans is, so you’ve got to come out ready to play.”
Coaches also claim a significant drop in attendance – and the subsequent loss of money from smaller ticket revenues – when game day gets moved from Friday.
“Early in the year it’s not a big deal. I don’t mind losing the day of preparation then,” Jackson said. “But when we did it at home last year it did not help our gate.”
Pippin, whose Yellow Jackets will play in front of television cameras for the third consecutive week this Friday against Greenbrier, said he loves the atmosphere that a TV game brings but also doesn’t like the change in scheduling.
“It’s good. The kids like it, and when you first hear about it you’re really excited about it,” he said. “Now I hate to say it, but I’ve got to think about the money. When your gate is $3,000 less on a Thursday, that hurts.”