Saturday, September 17, 2011

What happened to media coverage of San Francisco prep sports?

Is the lack of preps coverage related to the lack of fans,
or is the lack of fans related to the lack of coverage?

As usual during the last 20 or so Septembers, I've been covering high school football for local newspapers the last couple weekends. This afternoon, I covered El Camino High's visit to Lincoln High, where the photo above was taken.

There once was a time were the San Francisco High School Championship would bring 50,000 people to Kezar Stadium, but there were probably as many people on the field Saturday as in the stands. While an estimated 500,000 people attended high school sporting events in 2009-2010, attendance is no doubt well down from its peak era.

Of course, it ultimately comes down to a waning interest in both participation and outside interest in high school sports due to the availability of other activities (e.g., video games and the freakin' Internet). One factor might be the relative lack of media coverage at "prep" sports today. I was the only person reporting today's game for a newspaper. A decade ago, the same game might have brought at least four print media reporters and a crew from a TV show such as "High School Sports Focus." Is the lack of media coverage of high school sports a symptom or a cause of low attendance?

Locally, I trace a lot of the decline in local media coverage to Hearst's acquisition of the Chronicle about 10 years back. Then, as now, the Chronicle had very little high school sports coverage. But the Hearst-owned Examiner had healthy preps coverage and did fairly well. So when the Examiner staff took over the Chronicle, one might have thought that Hearst would bring its coverage over there. Not the case. Prep coverage in the Chronicle is virtually nonexistent.

The Fang family, which owned the thrice-weekly Independent, which had a decent local sports section, took over the Examiner, and covered local sports well (at least until it came under Anschutz ownership). Of course, an eventual casualty of Fang ownership of the Examiner was the very existence of the Independent (the Fangs apparently couldn't afford to keep two papers going). So, over time, the city of San Francisco was left with minimal high school sports coverage.

But new technology is giving prep sports coverage hope. While the local sports pages of local papers like The San Mateo County Times has shrunken precipitously, other media have stepped in to take up some of the slack. The only other reporter at the game was from, a local site started by a San Francisco State University graduate to cover local sports. In this, its second year, SanFranPreps has gotten successful enough it can start paying its writers, or so its editor told me last week. Over the past five years or so, has revolutionized the coverage and visibility of high school sports. Even the somewhat-maligned from AOL has somewhat helped improve local sports coverage.

So, while the crowds are not at the games anymore, and the "traditional" media has almost abandoned prep coverage (and limited local coverage as a whole), new media offers a ray of hope -- albeit a slight one.

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