Stepping Off


For more than six years, ESPN has been showing halftime of SEC games - online, at least.

During the 2016 season, ESPN quietly began airing the halftime shows of SEC games across their networks on ESPN+, accessible online, through the app, or on most streaming providers. This experiment had begun the year prior with the MEAC, though it seems they've since abandoned the practice for that conference. To be clear, they do the absolute least, leaving a high angle camera hot during halftime to capture the action, with no attention to how the band is oriented. I don't know what ratings look like for those feeds, but I watch when I catch them, even though it means shifting from the main game feed, and I'm glad that it's an option. Still, to "yes, and" their coverage, I think there's one space where they could gain even more traction: Pregame.

One of the challenges to televising halftime is that it doesn't occur at a set time. ESPN makes the feed available at a reasonable guess of when halftime may commence, but the pace of the first half dictates when exactly the band will step off. Conversely, pregame steps off a standard and predictable number of minutes before game time, every time. Instead of the floating feed at 1-something for a noon kick, ESPN could reliably tell you that the show would begin at, say, 11:37am. Unlike a halftime show that would need to be scouted to provide anything more in-depth than the high cam seed, pregames remain unchanged for years, meaning the show could be scouted, studied, and ultimately directed for a camera crew to best capture its essence. And unlike halftime shows, where copyright issues occasionally present a challenge to broadcast, much of bands' pregame routines are property of the university; in the public domain, or have had the rights secured for quite some time.

But there's one more reason to broadcast pregame: Fans would eat it up.

Look, I go looking for the halftime feeds on Saturdays, but then, my band nerdiness is well documented. Pregame, in contrast, is part of the lore for the program itself. Fans make it into stadiums well before kickoff for the traditional elements that precede their team taking the field. They're also a slice of experiencing that college town and gameday environment for fans who make the trip. For that reason, average college football fans may very well see the value of catching pregame on ESPN+ before flipping over to the game feed. As ESPN and the other networks that televise college football try to capture the true essence of the sport, they'd do well to open up a feed for pregame.