October 7, 2020 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Remote Viewing: Turning to Streaming Services for Athletics

School has been underway at Millard West High School in Omaha, Nebraska, since August 10, and the athletic administration prepared for the start of the fall sports season as close to normal as possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Most districts are going forward with plans as scheduled (in previous years),” Lance Smith, assistant principal and activities director at Millard West said on August 7. “What our crowds or stands will look like; however, I’m not sure.”

Resuming athletic activities with the threat of contracting the coronavirus is a risk every athletic administration is measuring as the calendar quickly turns to the fall months. And while some sense of familiarity may return for the coaches and student-athletes who participate in athletics, how parents, fans, and other spectators consume it may be very different than in previous years. 

Photo: Forth Edge / Creative Commons

Enter streaming services. 

They’ve already dominated the entertainment industry. Platforms like Netflix and Hulu are now woven into the fabric of popular culture. And now, with athletic departments forced to get creative to get their student-athletes noticed, they are turning to streaming services as a socially distant-approved solution. 

For Smith and Millard West, the benefits of teaming up with a streaming service platform were twofold. The educational aspect and the hands-on experience, first and foremost, stood out with the school’s broadcast journalism class. Students from Millard West broadcast the game with play-by-play callers and color commentators and allows for opportunities to work with cameras and production in addition to on-air content. Secondly, with the spread-out nature of the state, some teams must travel at least 45 minutes for road games. Having an easy-access streaming service allows schools to be good neighbors — helping the metaphorical parents rushing from work to catch their son or daughter’s game. 

“It’s been a big benefit to visiting fans if they’re dealing with traffic or weather or whatever else comes up in life,” Smith said. “And has definitely increased the exposure of our broadcast journalism class.”

Currently, Millard West is not charging fans to access games via its stream, but administrators have explored the idea of pay-per-view events that are hidden behind a paywall in the future. While all regular-season games are free to view, all postseason games in Nebraska are contractually aired through the NFHS Network, which is behind a paywall. 

“We’re not worried about the broadcast affecting our revenue,” Smith said. “Our approach has been ‘Let’s get it out there and show people there’s a reason to come to these games.’ If we can show that our teams are doing well and show the experience of the stadium is an attractive one, that may draw people to the game that wouldn’t have otherwise.” 

Like anything new to people, it takes time for it to be accepted. And with time, the fans of Millard West’s athletic programs have come to expect the streams, according to Smith. He even mentioned that a local bar and grille would show the games at its establishment. 

Much like the residual effects felt by Millard West’s broadcast journalism class, Smith said his previous school, York High School, also took full advantage of the streaming opportunity. 

“Out in York, (which is a) big agriculture community, we had a big FAA (Future Farmers of America) program and had a classroom with pigs. And one time, we had a pig that was giving birth to piglets, and the whole process was streamed. Cumulatively, it was our most-streamed video,” Smith said. “We’ve also used it for things like graduations and musicals if licensing goes to plan.”

Streamlining the Process

Newark Catholic High School in Newark, Ohio, started back up on a full in-person school year on August 24. The Ohio High School Athletic Association giving the green-light for all non-contact sports hosting full seasons. And other sports like football, soccer, and field hockey are expected to play a truncated season, Newark Catholic athletic director Thomas Pickering saw the need for a streaming service option. 

“We didn’t start thinking about it as an option until we lost spring sports,” Pickering said. “Once that happened, we started thinking about the fall and the potential issues we could run into. It presented a really good opportunity for us. We always wanted to upgrade our technological abilities, and this pandemic really pushed us into it.” 

Though still in the decision-making process, Pickering, who also serves as the school’s head football and baseball coach, can already envision the possibilities it presents for the athletic department. Whether it be self-evaluating, studying up on future opponents, getting players college scholarships, or just giving an option for weary spectators, the positives tend to outweigh the negatives. 

“I think as we learn about this stuff, it’s going to help with advanced scouting in a big way. Some coaches might view it as a competitive disadvantage, but many schools use some form of streaming platform,” Pickering said. 

Furthermore, from a coach’s perspective, the use of streaming platforms — where archived game footage can be stored — can streamline the process of getting student-athletes noticed by college coaches. And recruiters would much rather see the raw footage of the game than a player’s highlight tape. 

“The process can be as easy as providing a link to a college coach,” Pickering said.