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With schools restricting attendance, fans turn to online streaming

By Adam Krohn #local-all

NFHS Network sees spike in subscribers, broadcasters

There has been one major by-product of trying to play high school football in the midst of a world-wide pandemic.

Mark Koski, the National Federation High School Network’s vice president, said his operation has experienced triple-digit growth since the pandemic, with 5,000 new schools signing up to broadcast sporting events on the network nationwide. In Georgia, 41 new schools have joined the network since May, with 20 of those broadcasting football games. In total, 87 of the 166 schools in Georgia that use the network are broadcasting football games.

The NFHS network is the most notable of viewing opportunities for fans to watch their teams play. It has become more of an option as a result of limited-attendance measures taken by most schools. It also has replaced some of the lost revenue from gate receipts and concessions.

Formed in 2013 as a partnership with Atlanta-based PlayON! Sports, which began streaming high school sporting events in 2009, the NFHS Network has been working for years to achieve lofty goals with regards to growth. Fortunately for the schools, fans and the network itself, it was prepared for the inevitable spike in network usage once the pandemic became a significant factor.

“We had all the tools set in place to work with double the number of schools we’ve worked with in the past, “Koski said.

Koski projects the network will stream more than 300,000 live events this school year, spanning all sports, genders and levels (freshman, JV and varsity), which will nearly double the number from the previous seven years combined.

A key reason the network has been able to meet the increased demand from schools wanting to broadcast is the NFHS Network High School Support Program, which the network originally planned to launch in 2021. The program allows for any NFHS member school that wants to join the network to receive two Pixellot cameras — one for the gym and the other for the football stadium — with minimal costs involved for the school.

When it was clear that the pandemic would affect high school sports, including in-game attendance, the network accelerated the program’s launch date to early July.

“Once the pandemic hit we knew, talking with superintendents and athletic directors, that this wasn’t going to be a time where schools could come to us with additional funds to join the network,” Koski said. “So we huddled and worked with our investment partners to help raise funds to provide the cameras.”

With the help of locally based Buckhead Investment Partners, Koski said the network raised $200 million in capital that allowed them to provide and install for on-boarding schools two Pixellot cameras, which are valued at between $5,000-$7,000 each, according to Pixellot director of marketing Yossi Tarablus. All that’s required of the school is that it be an NFHS member and to have no existing Pixellot cameras installed. There’s a one-time fee of $2,500 for the school to join the network, and once that’s paid schools can begin collecting a revenue share from the network’s $10.99-per-month subscription fee.

The network also allows schools to seek sponsors to advertise during broadcasts, with all ad revenue going directly to the school.

One school that joined the network under the support program is Chattahoochee, which hosted Alpharetta on Friday. That marked the school’s first time broadcasting a football game on the network. The school, along with all Fulton County Schools members, are operating this season at 30-percent stadium capacity, which for Chattahoochee comes out to 1,047 people allowed to attend each game.

Chattahoochee athletic director Jason Hicks said the broadcast had 381 live views and 16 “on demand” views.

“The fans are very much grateful,” Hicks said. “Especially the grandparents, who are most susceptible (to COVID-19) and don’t want to come to a game, even with 30-percent capacity. For them and others in the community who maybe don’t feel comfortable coming out, it’s huge, and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback on that.”

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