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TV Goes All Out to Show Action

A record number of Southland games will be available on national and regional channels.

September 01, 2006|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

High school football will crack the prime-time television lineup this fall, when NBC unveils "Friday Night Lights" on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., beginning Oct. 3.

Based on the best-selling book about high school football in Texas, the series will follow a fictional team dealing with fame and pressure.

However, real games and drama will be unfolding every week on a cable channel or Internet site one click away. A record number of games are scheduled to air on national, regional and local cable channels this fall, bringing unprecedented exposure to Southland schools, players and coaches.

ESPN plans to televise 13 games among its three outlets, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, including a Sept. 28 game between Venice and Westlake Village Oaks Christian and an Oct. 7 game matching Mission Viejo and Concord De La Salle.

FSN Prime Ticket will air a minimum of 10 Southern Section games, plus one championship game and three state bowl games.

LA36 will have five games involving City Section schools. Cox Cable in Orange County and Time Warner in Ventura County will also air games.

Then there's the Internet. Jeff Proctor, a former vice president for sports at KCAL and KCBS, is president of a company that will use four cameras to produce a television-quality Internet webcast of two Southern Section games each week that can be seen for free at vootage.com.

"It's time," Proctor said. "The ability to do this on the Internet is becoming easier. Hopefully, we're pioneers."

Growing interest in high school football has been fueled by websites devoted to college recruiting, along with the need for cable channels to develop niche programming.

"The secret is out," said Steve Simpson, vice president and general manager of FSN Prime Ticket. "We've been doing this for 10 years. Our high school platform has always been well received. It's part of our fabric. I think people are realizing, 'Hey, it's a compelling product.' "

ESPNU will air a weekly half-hour recruiting program this fall, and ESPN is hoping its high school games help attract college fans.

"We saw there was a national interest for high school sports," said ESPN spokeswoman Tilea Coleman. "It offers our college football fans a broader look at incoming talent."

John Costello, marketing director for the Southern Section, negotiated a three-year contract with FSN Prime Ticket that will enable Southern Section schools for the first time to receive financial compensation for appearing on broadcasts during the regular season.

FSN is paying the Southern Section a flat fee for game rights. Schools are expected to split between $1,500 and $2,000 for each appearance depending on how many games FSN decides to air.

"There's a national market for it," Costello said. "There's so many TV outlets now and they need programming."

A defining moment for high school sports airing on cable occurred in 2002, when ESPN2 televised LeBron James playing in a high school basketball tournament at Pauley Pavilion. It drew a 2.0 cable rating, at the time the best TV rating on ESPN2 in almost two years.

Jimmy Clausen, the quarterback at Oaks Christian who has committed to Notre Dame and is considered the No. 1 college prospect in the nation, will be featured in games on ESPN2 and FSN Prime Ticket as both organizations attempt to capitalize on Clausen's national appeal. His Sept. 22 game on FSN Prime Ticket against Ventura St. Bonaventure is one of the most anticipated matchups of the season.

FSN will air a weekly football results show at 11 p.m. on Friday nights, plus a weekly spotlight show that airs before its game of the week.

LA36, funded by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, will partner with KLCS, the Los Angeles Board of Education school channel, to televise eight City championship events in a variety of sports.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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