TV viewership all but disappears on Friday nights. Yet TV stations fight tooth-and-nail for that small pool of folks who actually watch local news on Friday nights. Within that pool is, apparently, a sizable number of high school football fans.
This explains why local TV sports departments go slightly nutso covering high school football on Friday nights.
WAGA is clearly the nuttiest of the bunch. It’s also the most fun to watch. It starts with the rather quirky branding of its Friday night follies, “high five sports is in your face.” The icon is a hand over the face. And when WAGA’s photogs visit football stadiums across north Georgia, fans respond accordingly. It’s almost like a secret handshake. It’s also hilarious, starting with its pre-produced open:
What followed Friday were highlights lasting for some fourteen minutes from a staggering 21 different football games. Anchor Ken Rodriguez is the maestro. Or the tongue-in-cheek high priest. Midway, introducing highlights from North Gwinnett v. Brookwood, he intoned with faux gravity: “The power of five compels you. In your face with a vengeance!”
WAGA does it like this: It recruits / conscripts dayside photogs to work (and get paid overtime) into the night. Each photog is assigned two or three games within a geographic area. The photogs stay long enough to record a few good plays and some color from fans and cheerleaders. The photogs tromp up to the press box to fetch a printed program. When they return to the station, they turn the video over to sports producers, who use the programs to figure out which players made the highlight plays.
WXIA makes a quality effort to lure the same viewers. Friday, more than half of its 11pm newscast made way for “Operation Football.” Fred Kalil and Sam Crenshaw tag-teamed highlights from 18 games. The pair has a somewhat awkward on-air chemistry, and there were a couple of technical glitches. Crenshaw covered the Marietta v. Buford game, highlighted by an amusing standup next to a Wolverine mascot. Kalil covered a game with “Fredcam.” We’re unsure if the pixelated, distorted picture from Fredcam was intentional or not.
WSB’s football coverage is the least comprehensive of the three, but probably the most cravenly forward-thinking. It’s rife with sponsorships, from Chevy to McDonalds to the “ALFA player of the week.” It also highlights “student photojournalists,” who shoot highlights on camcorders and provide the video to WSB. The students get their names on TV. The video we saw Friday was pretty ugly; we’ll take professionally-produced video over “citizen journalism” anytime. But it engages the community, and the price is right.
WSB put Chuck Dowdle at North Cobb’s stadium live at 11, long after the game had ended. A few cheerleaders agreed to hang around to give Dowdle’s live shot some needed life. Dowdle ably pitched to highlights from eight games, including two shot by students. Compared to the other stations, WSB’s volume was lame.
Why WSB’s stuff is so heavily sponsored, we’re not sure. Commercially, it makes WSB arguably the winner; its viewers, not so much. Those sponsors ought to consider looking elsewhere for a Friday night product worthy of their cash.