H.S. league sets broadcast fees

Courtesy of the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader

The Wyoming Valley Conference released its new broadcast policy Tuesday, which can impose fees of up to $600 per event on broadcasters of high school sporting events.

Radio broadcasts are set for a fee of $25 per event, as is webcasting, which is defined by the WVC as “live video streaming.” Televised football, basketball and wrestling events can carry fees of up to $600 for a live broadcast and $200 for a delayed broadcast that is not on the same calendar day.

The policy was passed by the WVC athletic directors at their recent athletics council meeting.

“This is a product of the current economic situation facing school districts,” Berwick athletic director Tim Honeywell said. “State funds are being cut. Some schools are charging their athletes participation fees. District 2 eliminated all of its junior high championships.

“We’re looking for ways to offset costs to member schools.”

The policy was something of a shock to area broadcasters, who usually do not face a decision regarding broadcast fees until the District 2 playoffs and PIAA championships.

“Well, $25 a broadcast doesn’t sound like anything, but it sets a bad precedent,” said Jim Doyle, longtime voice of the Berwick football team and broadcaster of WVC and Heartland Conference events for WHLM radio. “It’s always going to be there, and it could grow to something that could prohibit a broadcaster from coming to games.

“It’s really unprecedented.”

It could actually be a bargain.

The New York City Board of Education recently negotiated a deal with Cablevision, owner of MSG Network and MSG Varsity network, for the broadcast rights to the city schools’ home sporting events for a sum of $500,000 over the next two years.

“The $25 fee, we feel, is minimal,” Honeywell said. “But every little bit helps us. When you take $50 here, $100 there, $200 … it all adds up. There’s all kinds of expenses when you have a game. There are costs that this could offset.

The host school is empowered by the WVC to waive or adjust fees as it sees fit. The fee is simply seen by the league as a countermeasure for lost revenue at the gate.

“When we discussed the impact of televised broadcasts, we reached a consensus that they cost us about 150 adults,” Honeywell said of football. “Looking at $4 per ticket, we thought that was a fair number. We’re not trying to gouge anybody. It’s incumbent on us to look at all revenue sources.”

During the football season, there are at least 10 outlets handling radio broadcasts for WVC games and as many as five television outlets.

But the struggles of economically challenged schools are not the problem of broadcasters. WNEP dropped coverage of the Schuylkill League basketball championship this year because of the imposition of a rights fee that was not in place in 2011. Others could follow suit with coverage changes.

“I don’t think people are staying home to listen to games on the radio,” Doyle said. “You could probably argue that a televised game, especially when the weather is inclement, could cost you some people.”

There has been little made in the past about rights fees, which are standard when the postseason begins. A District 2 football playoff game can cost from $1,500 to $3,000 to televise, and an Eastern Conference game could fetch $1,500. PIAA tournament fees could go as high as $3,500.

“We’re looking at the best interest of the kids,” Honeywell said. “We’re not going to make everybody happy. Wilkes-Barre cut junior high programs. We had a 10 percent budget cut. Schools are charging players to play.

“We’re not just picking on (broadcasters). They’re allowed to make money. And they are making money. They are not in the business to lose money. We knew it would not be taken lightly, but we want them to respect our decision. Our students and our schools are our top priority.”

Read more at the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader where this story was originally published.