Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The End of ESPN Boston High Schools

We may not have a High Schools section any more, but at least I got to keep these tiny promotional footballs...
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

If you haven't heard, ESPN Boston officially announced today that it will no longer cover high school sports, effective Saturday.

Obviously, we on the High Schools team would have liked a BIT more than these 34 words inside the official announcement, but our fearless leader Brendan Hall will have a column about the ending of the High Schools section, and will speak about it briefly in our weekly High School Football Preview video as well.

I know this news comes as a bit of shock to athletes, coaches and parents across the state, and I can certainly tell you that nobody on the High Schools team was happy about it. But, this is the reality of the business we're in, and for many years we've been able to use the ESPN brand to deliver our message, so it's hard to be too mad at the mothership for contracting us.

Now please allow me to, as best I can, explain why this happened, thank a few folks, and talk about what comes next.

So, why did this happen, and what does this mean for the future of ESPN Boston in general? Like I said, Brendan will have a column soon, but my understanding is that this came as a result of ESPN cutting its local affiliates.

For the last two years, ESPN Boston was the only truly "local" site remaining, as other sites like ESPN Chicago, ESPN Dallas, and ESPN LA simply became aggregators of ESPN content that happened to cover their respective markets.

ESPN Boston will now operate this way, with popular ESPN Boston reporters like Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Chris Forsberg (Celtics) now working for ESPN.com, and their work making its way over to the ESPN Boston domain once it is tagged as "Boston."

So, effectively, this is not only the end of ESPN Boston High Schools, but also the end of ESPN Boston an as actual local outlet, and the end of ESPN's local site experiment.

For two years, we were the last of a dying breed, but the ESPN local sites have now gone extinct, at least as truly local affiliates. Beyond my involvement with ESPN Boston High Schools, I find it a little bit depressing that even a behemoth like the Worldwide Leader couldn't make the local model work, but I also understand that there are so many factors that went into this decision, not the least of them being ESPN's overall financial troubles caused by cord cutting.

In the end, ESPN's massive size made us expendable, despite the success of the High Schools section, which brought in millions of unique visitors each year, making it the second-most visited portion of ESPN Boston, right after the Patriots section. We're not in Texas, or Florida or Ohio, we're in Massachusetts, where pro sports are king, and high schools take pride in academics over almost anything.

The fact that a section dedicated to high school sports was able to thrive like this is a credit to the tireless work of founding editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza, not only as reporters, but as community engagers and occasional social media butterflies.

I have to thank both those guys for bringing me on back in 2013 to cover lacrosse, and eventually allowing me to cover football and basketball as well. They both helped me grow as a writer, videographer, producer, editor and on-air talent. Without learning from them, I don't know where I'd be… Certainly not running my own website.

So thanks guys, I really appreciate all that you've done for me.

Scott moved onto greener pastures last winter, and Brendan is landing on his feet at ESPN as a personalization editor, but they'll always be the two guys who built ESPN Boston High Schools from scratch, in a tiny room in the bowels of Gillette Stadium.

They're proud of everything the section became, and with good reason.

I'm personally very proud with the way ESPN Boston High Schools made the games feel "big-time" to the kids and parents. Every time I covered a game, I always wanted to make it feel like the biggest thing happening that night, and I know all our other reporters did that as well.

We become a forum for players, coaches and parents to celebrate, vent, talk smack, brag and of course, tell Brendan how wrong he was. It became a community, and I'm thrilled to have been a part of it, however small a part I may have been.

I have to thank our video shooter/producer extraordinaire Greg Story, who made me look great on camera, and I swear added hair to my head through CGI. Greg is a true pro and an awesome guy, and I hope I get to work with him again in the future.

I also have to give a shout out to assistant editor Nate Weitzer, and fellow reporter Phil Garceau. You guys were both so much fun to work with, and I'm convinced you're the two best live-Tweeters in the state. Nate's high school basketball knowledge is second-to-none, and Phil succeeded in the impossible challenge of filling Scott's shoes during lacrosse season last spring.

I also have to give a somber thanks to late, great Bruce Lerch, who gave me my first gig in Boston at BostonLaxNet. It was actually Bruce who recommended me to Scott way back in the day. Without him, I never would have been at ESPN Boston. We all miss you Brucie!

Finally, where do we go from here? Well, I can't speak for everybody, but I personally am going to continue running SuiteSports as best I can, and I'm going to be bringing on some former ESPN Boston'ers until they can find a more stable landing place.

With myself, Nate and a number of other reporters now out there, let's just say there are now a bunch of incredibly talented free agents on the market.

Nate will come on and continue our statewide Top-25 for football each week on SuiteSports, and John Sarianides has already been writing some football pieces for us as well. We'll see if we add anybody else, but I'm going to try to make this frustrating event into something positive.

SuiteSports will expand into Eastern Mass a bit, and we'll see if there's a market for our video highlights, post game blogs and power rankings. We hope that some of you will stay with us, and that we can, at least partially, fill the void left by ESPN.

I am also pumped to announce that I will soon be hosting my own radio show on The K-Zone, WPKZ in Fitchburg.

With SuiteSports, a new radio show, our Thursday high school football radio show, and my continued coverage of Boston College for SB Nation, I'm going to stay busy.

Lastly, I have to thank all of you. Everybody who has read the High Schools section, argued with me on Twitter, yelled "Here we go Joe!" at me during a game… Thank you!

It's been an amazing experience to be backed by the ESPN name and provide the coverage we have for the last few years, and I hope we made all of you feel as "big-time" as you made us feel.

None of us truly knows what the future holds, but hopefully you'll stay with us as we all take that next step. Thanks again for all the support, and I'll be seeing you down the road.


No comments :