High school sports have long been part of the fabric of communities across the United States. More than just athletic showcases for children, they are often the source of countless local traditions, civic pride and even economic uplift for a school, town or region.
A new phenomenon built around school sports has the power to take each of those elements to even greater heights: digital broadcasting. Now equipped with the technology to provide quality streams at minimal expense, schools and athletic programs have the ability to expand their audience, reach far-flung alumni, galvanize old traditions and tap into an over-the-top-media market that offers the potential to turn a profit.
For years, many sports programs have relied on a parent with a camcorder or an assistant coach with a video-equipped tablet to record games — but often just for posterity or game-film purposes. The latest tech removes the burden from those enjoying the game, or those who have other responsibilities, and offers the additional benefit of delivering an instant stream to fans and families of the athletes, which can then be monetized to help support the sports program.
For schools that aren’t yet taking part, here’s a quick checklist to get started:
• Equipment and streaming provider
Evaluate and choose carefully. You’ll want to offer viewers a valued, reliable service for their subscription, and swapping tech models may diminish the user experience (and cost schools subscribers) in the short term.
• Internet and Wi-Fi service
Slow speeds, narrow bandwidth and varying signal strength can create issues with your stream. Again, your goal is a seamless user experience that values your viewers’ time and money.
• Social media presence
If you don’t have a strong and consistent social media presence, begin building one now. Followers should know when and where to find their favorite streaming sports, and promoting those streams (as well as other sports and programming) leads to more regular viewing and cross-promotional opportunities.
With those components in place, there are some best practices, preparations and challenges to consider. First and foremost, test your equipment. Be sure the tech is agreeable and familiar before game day. Conduct a dry run or two to ensure that the production kinks are worked out and that your first broadcast will go off as planned.
Once the season kicks off, be sure to share event links across as many platforms as possible, including social media, cafeteria digital boards and morning announcements. Update all calendars online and elsewhere, and be sure to effectively communicate any postponements, cancellations or changes. Again, be sure to heavily promote your stream. Students, parents, alumni and locals unable to attend in person may not even be aware that remote viewing is an option. Let them know.
Streaming can be a sports-viewing revelation for a school and all its athletic programs, but keep in mind that technical issues may arise from time to time. Be ready to address them. You may experience connectivity problems, for a variety of reasons — from issues on the user’s end to glitches on the network side. Stay in communication with the network to quickly resolve any problems and best serve your viewers.
These new technologies offer astonishing advantages. Some can be fully automated to create a virtually hands-off experience for the operator. Many offer levels of customization, including the ability to integrate commentary and graphics into a broadcast. And a school’s streaming options don’t start and end with sports. Performances, graduation ceremonies, school board meetings — there is almost no limit to the programming options a school can provide interested viewers.
With the pandemic having created new needs and demands for students, parents and others, schools have begun to rely more on technology to disseminate information. That has, in turn, created new expectations. Because the new tech is affordable, intuitive and revenue-creating, adoption should be a no-brainer — but don’t take our word for it. If a school isn’t already taking advantage of streaming, it won’t be long before fans, families and locals begin asking why, wondering when and eventually demanding now.