Friday Night Lights: Rethinking as a means for survival in the face of sea change

Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at October 12, 2005 09:18 AM

My family and friends know one thing about me – football is life.  I love it.  I love everything about it.  Can’t get enough of it.

I’ve been passionately following my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes since Woody threw that fateful punch.  I have only missed a single game in the last 20 years – I had a wedding to attend….my own.  My wife graciously agreed to schedule our nuptials on a weekend of a relatively easy game…and my groomsmen, all avid Buckeyes, agreed to provide me with updates throughout the day as they deemed appropriate.  My wife has since told me that she was happy the Buckeyes didn’t score during the actual service because she wasn’t convinced that my friends would have viewed that as an inappropriate time to pass on such great news.

It’s not just college football for me, though.  It’s any football.  Heck, if a few kids are lining up in a sandlot on the side of the road getting ready to knock the snot out of each other as one goes deep and another hurls the pigskin, I’ll do a double take from inside the car as I drive past…and analyze the play for several minutes afterwards.  My wife really loves this about me.

Lately, I’ve been able to reconnect with high school football.  My son and I are having fun watching the local high school team (tough season so far, but they did manage to beat the daylights out of their cross-river rival).

This has tuned me into a rethinking phenomenon that I hadn’t taken note of before — local sports, sportscasts, and sportscasters.

Have you watched the local sportscast lately?  Especially the Friday late night edition, in the fall?

I can’t speak for all areas of the country, but here in Ohio, where football is king, the Friday night sportscast is all about the Friday night lights.  The newscast has even been extended to show the feature in all its glory (some go an extra 15 minutes…sorry Jay and Dave).  Each station has highlights from an unbelievable number of games.  The shows have really invigorated the local sports scene.  Schools invite the sportscasters (and their cameras) to pep rallies and cheerleaders do special cheers to promote the features (“the Perrysburg Yellow Jackets looooove Friday Night Frenzy….goooooooo Jackets…).  Yep — the feature from each network even has it’s own slogan (in the Toledo area, we have  “Big Board Friday,” the “Powers Pack,” and, of course, “Friday Night Frenzy” (affectionately known as “the Frenzy”)).

This wasn’t the case when I was growing up in these parts.  I played high school football here in Ohio…and, believe me, they never showed highlights from our games or any others.

Something has changed.

But what?

I thought about this last Friday evening as I watched the Frenzy.  Then it hit me.


No one (in my generation, anyways) gets their sports news from the local guy anymore.  If you want news on any of the major pro or college sports, tune in to SportsCenter.  Duh-da-dunt.  Duh-da-dunt. (yep, my wife loves that, too).

Here’s my thoughts on what happened.

At some point in the last 10 years or so, local sportscasters had probably grown concerned.  ESPN was taking over their craft in large measure.  What did the future hold?  How would they survive in the face of such a beheamoth, especially considering the unbelievable success of the innovative network?

Somewhere, someone did some major rethinking and formulated a plan.  From an outsider’s perspective, the plan appears to have been the following:

Focus on the core.  Focus on what the local sportscasters can do better than anyone….local sports.  And don’t just do it….do it to the nines.  ESPN-it.  Take it to a whole new level.

They have.  And it worked.

These rethinking local sportscasters should be respected by all.  ESPN was (and still is) a major threat to their craft, and maybe even their livelihood.  But they stepped up.  They courageously grabbed the bull and stared it in the eyes while they rethought everything.

In my book, that’s genius.

And everyone has benefited from it.  The local guys have developed a beautiful niche that is truly theirs.  Local sports fans are getting local sports news like never before.  And local athletes are getting a little exposure.  In my eyes, these are all good things.

Go Bucks.

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