When and if high school sports get going this fall, spectators will not be allowed at K-12 sporting events, as the PIAA stated last week per preliminary school sports guidance from the office of Gov. Tom Wolf.
Of course, that could all change by Wednesday, when Wolf and Pennsylvania Department Health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine are expected to provide some guidelines in regards to the start of fall sports.
Regardless, many Lancaster-Lebanon League athletic directors are scrambling to figure out ways fans could watch the high school's home contests online this fall through a possible live-streaming platform. With that come many prongs. Which platform to use? How much will the equipment and software cost? Is every sport going to be live-streamed? Who will man the cameras? Will fans be required to pay a subscription? Can the school put sponsors on the broadcasts to help offset lost revenue? Can all of these questions be answered and everything ready to go in time for the start of fall sports regular season?
Platforms: A popular option some athletic directors are mulling over is the Pixellot system being promoted by the National Federation of High Schools and the PIAA. The NFHS Network is providing two Pixellot cameras free of charge to every high school in the country. However, each camera costs about $1,000 to install, the NFHS broadcast requires fans to pay a subscription to watch ($10.99 a month or $69.99 for an annual pass), schools only see a small fraction of the money back from those subscriptions, and the NFHS Network requires a five-year broadcast deal.
Plus, once the two NFHS Network cameras are installed, they remain stationary and automatically record from a schedule the school sets in arbiterlive.com. But the stationary cameras present a problem for a school like Penn Manor, where the volleyball team plays indoors in the main gym, the football team plays at Millersville University's Biemesderfer Stadium, and the rest of the fall sports teams play at Comet Field.
"We're not a one-size-fits-all," Penn Manor athletic director Steve Kramer said. "We have multiple locations."
Then there’s a more simple solution. Give a student, assistant coach, or a game staffer an iPad or smart phone, connect it to the school’s wi-fi and live-stream the game to the school’s Youtube or Facebook page. Solanco has been doing something akin to that the last few years for some of its fall and winter sporting events. Warwick has been doing the same for its winter sports the last couple seasons.
“We even added a color commentator just in the last year,” Solanco athletic director Anthony Hall said.
Title IX: With Title IX concerns in mind, athletic directors are trying to figure out how to live-stream all sports, which is a bit of a challenge when you think about how to broadcast a cross country meet or golf contest, or a high school tennis event in which there are varsity matches across multiple courts. And keep in mind drones are not allowed to be flown above playing surfaces, per PIAA rules.
“My idea for a sport like that is try to utilize some video and just upload that onto the same Youtube account after the fact,” Warwick athletic director Ryan Landis said. “Even if they’re just highlights or clips of different tennis courts, or some footage of the golfers.”
Advertising, revenue, subscription: Every school will be in the same boat as far as lost revenue in lower ticket sales. To fill that gap, there could be opportunities to advertise on the live-streams. Though, many L-L athletic directors have yet to cross that bridge in finding those potential sponsors and what those advertisements would consist of, largely because they're first trying to solve the concerns stated above, among other tasks.
Some of that lost revenue could also be made up through charging online subscriptions for live-streams. But again, schools would only see a fraction of the money from NFHS Network subscriptions. Meanwhile, Lancaster Catholic and Penn Manor are mulling over different (non-NFHS Network) live-stream platforms that would require a subscription where the schools would see a large return on that money.
“The prices aren’t finalized,” Penn Manor athletic director Steve Kramer said. “But they would be similar to tickets, like $6 for a game, $29 for a half a season or $40 or $49 for a full season.”
Landis is opposed to that idea at Warwick.
“When we live-streamed (on Youtube) in the winter for basketball and wrestling, people said, ‘Aren’t you losing money at the gate and revenue?’” Landis said. “No. We really aren’t. Fans are going to come to a sporting event if they can. Maybe not if it’s bad weather. And it (live-streaming) becomes a great tool for alumni and family outside of the area to go online and see the game.”
When interviewed for this story, Landis was disarmingly relaxed in thinking about all the possible hurdles to live-streaming.
“What I’ve learned is kids are better at this than many of us adults are,” he said. “So I’m not opposed to chatting and talking this over with some of our students that are pretty good in this area. They’re technologically savvy. I’m willing to bet they will have ideas and ways to help us out as far as what works and what doesn’t. It’s going to be a learning process, but I look at it from a positive end as much as we can right now.”