Guest Post: Why Schools Are Bringing Friday Night Football Into Living Rooms
By David Rudolph, Founder and CEO, PlayOn! Sports
As streaming technology and content offerings continue to level up, more entertainment consumers are cutting the cord from traditional cable providers and giving over-the-top media a look. Although the pandemic has accelerated the journey, the destination has been inevitable for some time: the world is turning to streaming.
As viewers begin to embrace the idea of more content on more platforms, they’ll often consider all their options and ask themselves, “I wonder if there is an app for this?” This is particularly true of sports content, which is widely broadcast by providers both big (ESPN) and small (single-digit-subscriber YouTube channels). And because high school sports feature a compelling mix of fervent local followers and a national audience, Friday night football and prep basketball games of the week are the next frontier of streaming sports.
Viewers today expect digital media to deliver everything from weekly coverage of their favorite NFL team’s games to second- and third-tier European soccer matchups. And providers have been up to the challenge. In fact, many sports consumers would be surprised at what they might find if they dug deeper. Depending where they look, a viewer might be able to catch live coverage of their Division II alma mater’s diving team meet or their niece’s high school JV volleyball match.
The reasons for that rapidly expanding reach are both demand- and supply-based. During the in-between pandemic period when sports were rebooted but fans were told to stay home, fans and families desperate for their fix of niche and local sports didn’t always have an outlet. But when the ongoing development of streaming and broadcast technology met a heightened interest from consumers, new advancements – such as automated production capabilities – provided a solution for even small or underfunded schools to broadcast events, contact-free.
With the latest tech, high schools can not only record, produce and broadcast the big rivalry football games, but also scrimmages and practices, freshman and sophomore games – and more. Think graduations, school plays, music recitals, debates, award ceremonies and morning news announcements.
Some of the more advanced streaming-enabled tech has the capability to be turned on remotely, auto-track game action (including panning and zooming) and pick up natural sound or booth play-by-play – all without the need for a human operator. But for schools interested in providing students the platform to learn the finer points of audio/video production, manual options offer an opportunity for real-world experience to develop and enhance broadcasts. Often, schools can take advantage of advertising integrations that can steer viewers toward key initiatives and increase revenues.
So, what’s next? For high schools looking to get ready for the needs of fans, they should:
- Promote streaming capabilities. Spreading awareness is key. Schools must first promote the availability of streaming options to fans, students, families and alumni via the school’s social media platforms or students that attend the particular school.
- Encourage remote attendance. For devoted fans that are not able to attend games in person, make sure they know how they can tune in to watch live via their preferred streaming device.
- Engage remote viewers. Just because some audience members aren’t at the game, it’s still important to find ways to involve them in the game day experience. For example, schools can create fan competitions by arranging various theme nights so virtual fans can still be involved with the action from their living room. Have these viewers send in pictures and post them on their social platforms, subsequently driving more eyes to streaming capabilities.
Likewise, distributors will also need to engage with local high schools. They might consider the following:
- Leverage social media. Go to social media first with any content. Cross-platform promotional opportunities will only amplify the content you are streaming, helping you boost your content while engaging with fans before, during and even after a broadcasted event.
- Implement interactive activities. Just as schools must engage with fans, content distributors must find ways to engage with schools. Some examples of this could be by hosting trivia, giveaways or even showcasing musical performances done during half-time.
- Create an emotional connection with fans. In addition to the sports content you are broadcasting, look to address the emotional needs of a given school’s fans. As one of the most involved fanbases, this should be a go-to strategy for distributors looking to resonate with viewers that tune in.
Streaming enables schools to offer fans – current students, alumni and locals – a way to stay involved with a program, institution or community. And it’s a godsend for out-of-town relatives and busy family members, who no longer have to miss a performance from a son, granddaughter or cousin – and can view the live or on-demand stream at their convenience.
We’ve arrived at a point where every game on every level – and nearly every school event – can be viewed by anyone with an internet connection and a web-enabled smart device. Streaming has become the great equalizer for schools facing barriers such as size and budget, as well as the bridge that allows faraway fans and loved ones to stay connected.
David Rudolph is the founder and CEO of PlayOn! Sports, which through a joint venture with the National Federation of State High School Associations, created the NFHS Network (wwww.nfhsnetwork.com). The NFHS Network provides fans the ability to stream high school sports on any device, from wherever they are. NFHS Network works with the majority of schools across the country and has given back more than $33 million to the high school ecosystem through its High School Support Program and other supporting initiatives.