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Tackling the business of high school football

September 21, 2016

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This football season the monetization of high school football can be a great story. High schools have been making headlines for building costly stadiums and for making broadcast deals with major networks like ESPN. Here are a few places to look for stories on who is (or isn’t) making money in high school football.

Local schools

Schools in the biggest football states tend to devote significant resources to the sport. Expenditures include gear, travel and coaches, whose salaries can exceed $100,000. Some schools say sales from a robust football program can help to pay for other less popular sports. However, a 2011 study in Texas found that most football programs were not profitable for the school. The deciding factor seemed to be how often a team won games; those that were not consistently winning were spending money, yet not drawing crowds.

Even standout schools that attract network attention may end up in the red. Sometimes a team spends more in travel costs to get to a stadium than it receives in broadcast fees. Still, teams feel compelled to accept broadcast deals because players know that national attention could make a difference in their future careers.

Statewide leagues or associations

Tournaments with strong, popular football teams are able to draw the biggest crowds. Events are sometimes broadcast directly, further increasing the monetization potential. Often these games are hosted on a state level, and run by statewide organizations. Some of the earnings are distributed among the local schools, but much of it is kept by the organization itself. These organizations are typically non-profits with goals of fostering inter-school activities or facilitating an increase in sports participation.


Major networks are including more high school games than ever in their football coverage. While these games don’t draw anywhere near the audience of pro football, they do represent a significant new market with low production costs. Since high schools are eager to gain exposure, networks are not forced to pay high fees. Schools can take more control of broadcasting by using the NHFS network, where schools assume production responsibilities in exchange for equipment rental, a platform for broadcasting and a split of the profits.


Debate over whether it is fair for universities and networks to pull in millions from unpaid college athletes has been a hot topic for years. Although no one suggests providing stipends to high school players, there are questions about whether it is right for anyone to be profiting from their performance. Some say money-making programs place undue pressure on high school players, who could be at risk for injury or poor academic performance.

Reporter’s takeaway:

• Follow the money to find out if local high schools are profiting from their football programs. If they are, look at where the money is going and how community members feel about spending. If they are not profitable, is the program simply unpopular or has school has failed to capitalize on possible funds?

• Look into who hosts the state tournament and how the organization spends the money it makes.

• Find out if your school broadcasts football games or is planning on participating in a major network game. Investigate how much money is made, and what percent is shared with the local schools.

• Interview local students, parents and teachers and ask how they feel about schools looking to football programs for funding.


  • Jenna Miller

    Jenna is a journalist and videographer residing in West Philadelphia. She’s previously worked for Delaware Online and the Salisbury Daily Times, both part of the USA Today Network. She aims to create thoughtful, community-centered work. Jenna graduat...

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