Indiana TV Station Creates All-Sports Channel, Home to University of Southern Indiana
Evansville, Indiana’s WEHT has launched a 24-hour sports programming lineup on its secondary digital channel. The new channel is the exclusive home of the University of Southern Indiana (USI) and the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s (IHSSA) network.
“[This] started with an innocent email I sent to my boss at the end of last year’s high school football season,” explains NEWS25 Sports Channel sports director Lance Wilkerson. The station had put together equipment and crew to broadcast a high school football game between two local undefeated teams.
“My goodness,” says Wilkerson, “it was a tremendous hit. In the off-season we said, ‘what’s the chance of us doing this every week?’ Next thing you know, we have a sports channel.”
Wilkerson credits General Manager Doug Padgett for driving the enterprise. “This was all his vision. He has bought a lot of equipment!”
This fall, the station will broadcast a weekly high school football game produced by a newly-hired crew of 13. For USI, which doesn’t have a football team, the station will carry all home men’s basketball games and Wilkerson hopes they’ll add women’s basketball and spring baseball to the schedule, as well.
In addition to live game coverage, the station airs a weekly 30-minute sports show, After Further Review, which is produced and hosted by Wilkerson.
“This is my baby,” he says.
atterned after ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, he describes the show as “fast moving with a lot of opinions and interactions with Facebook and Twitter.”
The partnership with USI is, in fact, a 50-50 relationship.
“We wanted a partnership that was win-win on both sides,” Wilkerson explains.
In addition to shared revenue from the broadcasts, the school also has eight hours of programming time during the school year to be used in any manner the school chooses.
When the station is not airing local programming, content will be provided by Kentucky’s Wazoo network. Additionally, any games broadcast on WEHT that include a team from Kentucky will be carried state-wide by Wazoo.
Wilkerson calls the new station a renaissance of his career. In a time when many stations are reducing or even eliminating local sports departments, WEHT has added to its staff, acquired new equipment, and made a commitment to local sports. He says Padgett has been getting calls from stations around the country asking about the channel.
“I think a lot of TV stations aren’t sure what to do with their secondary channels,” Wilkerson says. “I think you have to do local programming.”