Lessons From the PSHS-PHS Football Game

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

What can be learned for 2008?

As most everyone knows by now, WTAP was not permitted to show the Oct. 5 football game between Parkersburg and Parkersburg South high schools, live. That was because the game was not officially a sell-out by the time we had to make a decision about the live broadcast on Thursday, Oct. 4.

This was the first time in five years that WTAP was not permitted to show this annual showdown. It was a big disappointment to us and, if my e-mails and phone calls are any indication, quite a few fans, as well.

Financially, it didn't make any difference to WTAP if the game were broadcast live or not. We had already sold whatever advertising we were going to sell, and incurred whatever expense we were going to incur, whether the game was live or only on tape-delay. But having our work go out over the air and into people's homes live is always more fun than doing it on tape.

As of 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct 4, there were still about 1,200 tickets left for the game, which was to be played at Erickson Field in South Parkersburg. This, despite the fact that we had repeatedly told our viewers and web visitors that the game would NOT be telecast live on the air or on the internet unless it was sold out.

We had urged fans from both schools to show their support for their teams and to make the live broadcast and webcast available to shut-ins, the elderly, the long-distance fans, and servicepeople all over the world, by buying tickets to ensure a sellout. Many of those fans responded. But obviously, not enough of them.

It was a gorgeous night for football albeit a tad too warm. We went ahead with our tape-delay version of the game, with WTAP Sports Director Jim Wharton and former coach Mike Hayden doing the play-by-play. It was a great broadcast. I had at least a couple of e-mails from folks who said they and their associates very much appreciated the fact that we also showed both bands' complete half-time shows, which we always do.

But as Joe Crislip, the Athletic Director at Parkersburg South, reported, there were still several hundred unsold tickets by the time kick-off occurred at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

What can be learned from this experience to apply to next year's game? Several things.

First, if anyone had any doubt as to whether the high schools would actually prevent the game from being broadcast live due to a lack of ticket sales, there should no longer be any doubt.

Second, it was apparently NOT the possibility of the game being broadcast live that dampened ticket sales. It was more likely that the lack of sales was caused by the belief that the score of the game would be lop-sided. We gave plenty of notice -- more than 24 hours -- that we would NOT broadcast or webcast the game live. We hoped that in so doing, the news would spark a flurry of last-minute ticket sales. If it did, it was not enough to sell out the game.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, when next year's game comes around, we can only hope that fans of both teams will remember that the game will NOT be broadcast live if the game isn't a sell-out, and will do whatever they can to make sure it sells out.

This has always been the biggest rivalry in West Virginia high school football. That's what makes the live broadcasts so much fun. The electricity in the air on game-night is palpable, even on TV or the internet. Let's hope fans from both sides of the river will take that to heart when next football season rolls around and buy enough tickets to help the schools and help Patriot and Big Red fans everywhere enjoy this night, live, as it happens.

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