The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is the national leadership organization for high school sports and performing arts activities. Through its 50-member state associations and the District of Columbia, the NFHS reaches more than 19,500 high schools and 12 million participants in high school activity programs, including more than 7.9 million in high school sports. Anyone who has worked with high school sports is likely aware of or has used NFHS participation reports, training courses and other resources.
How did NFHS get involved with streaming?
Six years ago, the NFHS created the NFHS Network, a joint venture among NFHS, its member state associations and PlayOn! Sports, for recording and streaming of high school sports games, as well as other student activities, such as debate, theatrical performances and band concerts.
The NFHS Network was well received by state associations and Network users and as a result, there was a steady increase in involvement, both from member state associations and those using the system. Currently, 86 percent of our membership is featured on the network.
In 2017, NFHS announced a partnership with Pixellot, an automated sports production system that uses unmanned high-resolution cameras to record games in settings such as sports fields, auditoriums and gymnasiums. This meant it was possible to avoid the need for camera crews while still allowing high schools to provide play-by-play and other interactive content and immediately rendered the arrangement more valuable to schools.
How does the NFHS Network work?
Schools can purchase the Pixellot camera(s) through the NFHS Network and receive guidance on installation and usage. Once the cameras are installed, schools provide the NFHS Network with a schedule of games and events, and these are automatically recorded and streamed. A section on the NFHS Network landing page allows users to search by school and find the content they are looking for, and to view it. They can watch something live or they can come back to it later and see it in its entirety at their convenience.
The goal of the NFHS Network is to showcase and celebrate the accomplishments of students, whether they are student-athletes participating in the 27 different sports covered by the Network, or one of the student broadcasters from schools around the country producing events through the School Broadcast Program.
The NFHS Network also features state playoff and championship events for 42 state member associations. Content can be viewed by streaming it via television, tablets, phones and online from any computer.
The ability to record and stream events at the high school level has been very beneficial to the NFHS. Those who are considering getting in on it are picking a great time; there are some excellent options available on the market. There are also a tremendous number of advantages to be had by choosing to record and stream.
Why make the decision to engage in streaming?
For the NFHS Network, it is a way of capturing what our students are doing, not just in sports but in various activities. Streaming also provides a way for people to follow those sports and activities, whether they are parents who are unable to attend a game or event, or whether they are grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends or casual fans of the game who never want to miss a game or activity. The NFHS Network offers a benefit to students, family and friends to stay connected in a unique way they weren’t able to before.
This year, we’ll have over 100,000 events streamed, including 90,000 sporting events. School activities, such as drama, band, debate, etc., are free to watch. Sports events can be viewed for $9.95 a month, which gives you an unlimited pass for 30 days.
School buy-in has grown significantly and 43 of the 51 NFHS state associations are now a part of the NFHS Network. One by one, we’re working toward having our member state associations on the Network. This is an important goal and I have great confidence we will get there in the next several years.
Are students involved in the broadcasts at all?
The backbone of our Network is our students – we like to see them getting involved. Whether they’re the ones whose performance is being broadcast, calling the play-by-play or promoting the event to their peers and the community, it keeps them engaged and involved in the school community.
What kind of support is needed from the school for the cameras to work at each game?
Nothing, really. Once the cameras are installed, nothing else needs to be done and that is a major advantage to large and small schools. The NFHS Network receives a schedule in advance from the school and the cameras automatically turn on and off.
Is it possible to monetize your streaming? Do people take advantage of it?
This is something NFHS already does. The NFHS Network has several corporate partners, including Champion and Olive Garden. In addition, folks are paying to get the 30-day subscription to watch games. Currently we have over 1.1 million monthly subscribers on the NFHS Network.
Schools that participate in recording and streaming can receive 37.5 percent on the revenue of the games they produce. It’s a great way to receive funds. The NFHS Network has a section on its website explaining why subscriptions are necessary and how schools benefit from them.
The Network has also added the ability for those watching the live stream to purchase DVDs of championships as well as download to own options – something valuable not only to family members but to coaches and fans.
When you started streaming, was there any pushback from people?
Surprisingly, there was none; our states embraced the NFHS Network from the beginning.
What kinds of questions should you ask a prospective vendor of streaming services?
Find out what kind of equipment will be required to make it happen, since not all systems are the same. For us, an automated system was the answer – although for championship games, we contract with production crews to provide onsite services. You want to find a vendor who has the equipment you need, and whose company and equipment your school or organization is comfortable with.
Ask about the possibility of being able to incorporate sponsorships into the stream and whether it is possible to put your own ad content in. For example, if Joe’s Tire Shop down the street wants to sponsor, you want the ability to let them put their 30-second spot into the coverage.
Why is streaming suddenly so popular? It seems like everyone is doing it.
At the NFHS Network, we discovered that very few television stations are covering high school games live – or at the very least, devoting any measurable amount of programming time to them. The ability of an organization (in our case, a school) to make its games viewable to a wider audience makes the game (and by extension, the organization) even more valuable.
If you’re on the fence, consider this. Streaming can be an excellent marketing tool for a tournament or event. You are not just showcasing and celebrating the athletes to families and friends (and giving them a way to preserve their memories of the competition) but you’re allowing coaches, scouts and others to get a look at them. That can have a lot of value to the athlete down the road – and can make your choice to stream events even more valuable for years to come. SDM