High school football is big in Central Texas. It’s even bigger on a Jumbotron.
Districts across the region are buying the massive video screens, hoping to pay off the investment with ad revenue, hundreds of thousands dollars of which has rolled into school district coffers.
The video screens can cost almost half a million dollars, and so far only the Eanes and Round Rock districts have paid off their screens. But if ad sales go well, other districts could pay theirs off in a few years, school officials say. The screens also provide valuable video production experience for students who film the action, cut replays, create the ads and more.
“It’s a sizable investment, but it’s also an investment in these kids and their skills,” said Brian Corbin, the video tech teacher at Lake Travis High School, one of two high schools in the area that debuted big screens this season.
At least seven area districts — including Round Rock, Georgetown, Eanes and Bastrop — have the screens, which cost about $450,000 apiece. The Dell Diamond’s old video screen was powered up in Hutto this year. The district saw it as a bargain that cost $2,000 to buy and $157,000 to put up. The San Marcos school district plans to unveil its own video screen next year.
The Austin school district hasn’t bought any of the big screens. District officials say they’re too expensive.
The amount of ad revenue the screens have brought in has varied greatly. Eanes and Round Rock have had their screens the longest — both are at least a decade old.
In the Eanes district, the athletic boosters bought the scoreboard, and the district funded the roughly $300,000 screen with bond money in 2001. The district spent an additional $326,563 upgrading the screen with 2011 bond money. The athletic boosters collect the ad revenue and send a majority of it to the high school’s video tech crew for cameras and equipment. A portion goes to other sports. The district also gets a cut. The screen has more than paid itself off and almost $180,000 has been contributed to the district since 2006.
Round Rock’s screen, put up in 2003, has brought in $494,700, more than paying off its $408,010 cost.
But sales at a few districts have lagged behind. Georgetown’s screen, built in 2008, has brought in about $141,500 so far. Bastrop, which has had a screen for three years, has netted $164,000. Hutto hopes to pay off its screen in four years and has raised about $20,000.
So far, Lake Travis’ screen has seen the money roll in at a quick clip — about $135,000 in its first year. Advertisers include Jaguar Land Rover Austin, Prosperity Bank and Lakeway Regional Medical Center. Officials anticipate the district can rake in nearly $600,000 in profit over the next decade.
“This isn’t about football,” Lisa Johnson, the Lake Travis school board vice president, said in May. “This is smart business.”
Not just for pros
Game time can get hectic for the Lake Travis students running their screen. Those with the cameras try to capture all of the action on the field. Evan Bradley, a senior, runs the switchboard in the press box. He’s constantly watching the video feeds for replays — one of the main ways the video screen has changed the way people are watching high school football.
Bradley recalled a recent game when the team’s star player was called out of bounds.
“We ran the replay, and you could just hear the crowd go, ‘Oh no, that’s wrong,’” Evan said. His experience running the board at Lake Travis helped him land a gig working for the Austin Toros, the San Antonio Spurs’ D-League team in Cedar Park, where he operates graphics and replays on the team’s online video stream.
A crew of 16 Lake Travis students helps operate their screen during games and creates nearly all of the content on it. Some of the students spent their summers writing, filming and editing the commercials that run throughout the game. They create the graphics that pop up with loud music aimed at pumping up the crowd and the players.
“Coach asked for a particular song. He’s given us an assignment to get his players going,” said Corbin, who helps run the show on Friday nights. “It’s kind of made us feel like a 12th defender on the field.”
The requested song was “Turbulence,” which the students played while showing a classic defense graphic with a bouncing “D” and a fence.
Other students on the crew are using their experience in the real world, too.
Senior Will Cardle and junior Punya Chatterjee are going to produce more video spots for Lakeway Regional Medical Center. Senior Chloe Wilt has been working with ESPN radio as a sideline reporter, and Max Wood, a senior, works at a special effects studio in Spicewood. Students in other districts have gone on to pursue video tech in college.
The students work on a tight schedule. They have a list showing whose ad needs to run when, and there’s a lot of money on the line if they don’t get it right. Advertisers are paying up to $22,500 a year for their screen time. So far, the students haven’t missed one, and they say it’s getting easier as time goes by and they start to feel the natural flow of the game.
The crew also uses the screen to highlight things beyond the game itself, including the band, cheerleaders, the dance team and more. Fans have started to get into the action, donning fake mustaches in an attempt to attract the students running the cameras and land their face on the big screen.
“It’s more gratifying for everyone to have this giant thing we’re all connected through,” Corbin said.
High school football on the big screen
Districts across Central Texas are investing in huge video screens for their football stadiums, hoping ad revenue will roll in:
District | Cost of screen | Ad revenue to district
Bastrop | $450,000 | $164,070
Eanes | $626,563 | $179,937*
Georgetown | $470,792 | $141,500
Hutto | $159,000 | $20,000
Lake Travis | $449,008 | $135,500
Round Rock | $408,010 | $494,700
*Eanes bought the screen for about $300,000 with 2001 bond money and spent $326,563 to upgrade the screen with 2011 bond money. The amount of ad revenue has more than covered the screen’s cost, officials said,so the amount shown is the district’s profit since 2006.
Source: School district records.