When Northwestern hosts Byrnes to open the 2014 high school football season on Aug. 22, there will be thousands of fans in the District Three Stadium stands. There will also be thousands more watching on ESPNU, which will televise the contest.
“I think it goes back to the programs that Northwestern and Byrnes both run. It’s year-round, it’s 12 months and the coaches and the kids commit to the program, and I think it’s a reward for what they do,” said Northwestern athletics director Lauren West.
Northwestern and Byrnes are playing in Rock Hill for the second straight season because of a new scheduling cycle. Northwestern topped Byrnes at District Three 42-35 last fall in a thriller, also at District Three. The Trojans went on to win all of their 15 games, romping to the Class 4A-Division II state title and finishing with a No. 7 national ranking, according to USA Today. When it was determined that the Trojans and Rebels would play again at District Three, this time in the season-opener, Paragon Marketing, which represents ESPN in high school football negotiations, was very interested.
“We’ve been talking with Paragon Marketing probably since January, immediately following football season, once we started setting football schedules,” said West.
Financial details can’t be disclosed, but Northwestern will operate the game, which kicks off at 6:05 p.m., like a normal home game. Last year’s Northwestern-Byrnes contest was aired online via ESPN3, but given the work that goes into hosting a televised game, West was only interested in actual television this time around.
In 2010, Northwestern played South Pointe as part of an ESPNU doubleheader. Hoover (Ala.) and Byrnes also played in the two-game series held at District Three. West said she wasn’t worried about the TV audience cutting into ticket sales.
“We’re not worried about a loss in revenue,” she said. “Byrnes travels extremely well and was our highest gate last year. I think people enjoy still watching football live and in-person, and being a part of the excitement in person. There’s just something about the live atmosphere that really attracts people.”
Plus, the exposure is invaluable.
“School districts don’t have advertising budgets and we can’t just go out and buy that type of coverage and publicity,” said West. “I think it’s a great thing for not only Northwestern, but also the city of Rock Hill, because it allows us to highlight good things, talk about Football City USA, and it allows us to put ourselves on a platform where we showcase that.”