SMOOTH STREAM: If online broadcasts are in high school sports future, what will it look like?

File photoCould streaming of high school sports games see increased demand this fall amid possible crowd restrictions?

There’s no telling what the high school sports landscape might look like this fall. Given that leagues like the NBA and NHL are preparing to play in front empty arenas and others are looking at stadiums with vastly reduced capacities, it’s prudent to wonder if — and how many — fans might be allowed to attend high school games when they eventually resume.

What options will exist for classmates, alumni and extended family to watch their favorite teams should this come to pass?

Streaming video of live sports games exists at many levels. Around the North Shore, schools like St. John’s Prep, Endicott College and Salem State University routinely broadcast their events to watch over the internet. If fans can’t attend — or perhaps don’t feel comfortable due to coronavirus risks — local athletic programs could see a huge increase in demand for these streams.

St. John’s was one of the first schools in the state to embrace streaming games. They’ve been doing so since 2013, working with a company called Streamography headed up by Andrew Nicastro. The Eagles stream almost all their football games as well as many contests from soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball and lacrosse to wrestling and fencing.

“Anything we can do, logistically, we try to do. We tried cross country and track and that proved kind of impossible but we’ll do volleyball, rugby, everything,” said St. John’s Prep athletic director Jameson Pelkey. “There’s a demand for it. We usually see hundreds of viewers — and Thanksgiving football can get over 1,000.”

For a school with a wide alumni base and that draws families from several dozen communities, streaming makes sense regardless of the pandemic. Whether it’s a recent grad studying abroad, a parent who can’t make a long drive or a grandparent living in Florida, there’s no shortage of demand for Eagles’ athletic events.

“It’s been great for us,” Pelkey said. “We’ll be streaming as many games as we can either way.”

Streamogrpahy handles the logistics, bringing camera operators and handling the IT in terms of building the Web site or embedding the steam in an existing site. Games can be broadcast with a single camera or with multiple angles; the presentation has evolved to include on-screen scoreboards and some replays. Cost varies depending on the number of cameras, projected length of games and how many are streamed per season.

“St. John’s was our first client,” said Nicastro, who also handles streaming weddings and all sorts of events.

“It’s very simple: you tell us where and when and we do the rest. We hire and train streamographers. hey know the professional grade hardware and software, and they also know the art of how to present a game.”

Game streams at the Prep have also opened up on-the-job training for student broadcasters. The ability to take up a microphone and call games like they see on TV has inspired a number of St. John’s grads to study communication or broadcasting in college.

“The students have been heavily involved, and that’s one of the best parts about the whole thing,” Pelkey said. “We’ve tried to do some stuff on our own, but it’s not the same quality as what Andrew does. They’ve got the good microphones, high quality cameras, it’s HD — it looks great on a big screen.”

Other mediums

There are other ways to stream live video online, either through applications such as Periscope or Facebook Live or through YouTube. As long as there’s a solid internet connection, schools could use a tablet or smart phone to stream games, though the quality would vary.

MooreStuffOnline, which partners with The Salem News for its weekly sports podcasts, does live internet radio broadcasts of various high school games each week.

Besides their equipment like microphones and laptop computers, MooreStuffOnline pays a subscription fee for their audio interface and to make sure there’s a portable WiFi connection available.

Owned and operated by Rick Moore in Gloucester, MSO gets big audiences for its football games in the fall, and plans to continue bringing those to fans all over the North Shore and beyond when the games resume. Schools with enough room in their budgets could explore putting together a student broadcast team for audio-only broadcasts as well.

Cities like Peabody and Beverly have municipal cable TV operations that also cover games. Peabody Access TV, for example, films and broadcasts, on average, 2-3 games per week to Channel 8 in the city. For those fans or family members that don’t live elsewhere, the same feed is streamed online whenever possible.

“We try to go on Facebook and YouTube live whenever possible,” said PAT creative director Courtney Kent. “In the event we can’t, we’ll film and air them there later.”

There have been no decisions made about resuming high school sports or what crowds might or might not be allowed. With all the changes that have come in all walks of life with the COVID-19 pandemic, being ready to have a different medium to deliver the North Shore sports experience makes sense.

“For graduations, sports and all their activities — this year or next — these seniors deserve an audience,” Nicastro said. “Whether it’s physical or digital, they deserve the audience.”

 

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