December 13, 2018
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WABI, CW won’t televise state championship football games this season

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The Maine Central Institute football team celebrates after winning the Maine Class D State Football Championship game in this 2016 file photo.

WABI-TV CBS Channel 5 and the CW of Bangor will not be televising the four state high school championship football games this season.

The stations have carried the games for the past 13 years, but Steve Hiltz, WABI’s director of promotions, production and programming, said it has become too labor intensive.

“There are a lot of reasons but the [primary] problem is that it has become too much for us to do. Resources have been very difficult the last few years. We have a limited staff to cover that many games. And it has become more expensive every year,” Hiltz said.

Hiltz said finances also played a role.

WABI hasn’t lost money on the venture but the profit margin has been dwindling, he said.

“Financially, we always managed to do OK, but last year was challenging. It’s been getting that way for a while. The games were always at one location and that’s why we did it. Adding the fourth game created stress and it grew from there,” Hiltz said.

The Maine Principals’ Association added a Class D state final in 2013 to go with the A, B and C games. Three are always held at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland on Saturday with either the Class B, C or D state final being held at the University of Maine’s Alfond Stadium in Orono the previous night.

Bangor High is the only team north of Lewiston in Class A, so the A final is always held in Portland. The other three classes rotate between Portland and Orono.

Hiltz said because WABI has only one production truck, it had to rent a production truck from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network and have some of the MPBN staff cover the Friday night game.

He pointed out that some of the WABI-CW staff would work the Friday night game with the MPBN crew and then get up and drive to Portland to help out with those three games.

He added that last year’s games were one-sided and that makes the ability to sell advertising more challenging.

“It made it less interesting for some advertisers,” he said.

In last year’s state title games, the average margin of victory was 41 points. Only the Class C final, won by Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield 30-13 over Cape Elizabeth, was decided by less than 43 points.

There was also the challenge of securing advertisers for the Class A final because the closest team to the Bangor area to participate in a state final the past five years has been either Portland High or Cheverus of Portland. Portland is 129 miles from Bangor.

“We had to start evaluating what we were doing,” said Hiltz, whose network has put its resources into televising five regular season games in the eastern Maine area and one regional championship game.

The MPA has had discussions with other organizations about televising the games and the likelihood is that they will be streamed on the internet, according to MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to have coverage. But, like some of our other activities, streaming is becoming more prevalent,” Burnham said. “We want to have coverage for people who can’t make it to the games.”

Burnham praised WABI and the CW for its coverage.

“They were a pleasure to work with and did an outstanding job with their coverage,” he said.

One of the organizations Burnham has been talking to is the National Federation of High School Sports Associations Network, which is involved with streaming some Maine high school basketball tournament games as well as the state finals in field hockey, soccer and volleyball..

The Northeast Sports Network and MPBN also carried basketball tournament games.

The Northeast Sports Network streamed tournament games but MPBN televised all 10 state championship games.

Burnham said MPBN is not interested in televising the state high school football games.

The NFHS requires a subscription fee of $9.95 per month, but it enables viewers to watch different sports from 36 states.

Nothing has been finalized, Burnham said.

Hiltz, whose network lost out on the University of Maine television sports deal to WVII ABC Channel 7-WFVX Fox 22 in 2013, said there is always sadness when televising local sports ceases.

He also said just because they won’t be televising this year’s state football games doesn’t mean they won’t pursue it in the future.

“I never say never. We’re just going to try something different,” he said.

The final four regular season football games that will be carried by WABI and the CW will be the Hermon-MCI game Friday night and the following Friday night’s Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln-Bucksport game, and Saturday afternoon games between Lawrence and Winslow (Sept. 29) and Mount Desert Island and Nokomis (Oct. 6). The Friday night games will be on the CW and the Saturday afternoon games will be on WABI.

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