Live streaming high school sports has become almost universal in area leagues with this school year’s seasons being played under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State and local limits on the size of crowds at athletic events have driven the surge in live streaming.
With only 200 to 300 fans allowed to watch games in person if regulations are strictly followed, viewing them electronically is the next best thing for many fans.
Some schools charge to watch the streams. Others don’t. And some have offered events both for a price and for free.
But the common thread across every league is giving fans a chance to see the games in a year when tickets are scarce.
“We decided to live stream games this summer when we knew that we would be limited in spectator attendance. The overall goal was to allow family members and loyal fans the opportunity to still support our students even though they could not be there physically,” Spencerville athletic director John Zerbe said.
Here’s a sample of what some area schools have live streamed from their own gyms and stadiums so far:
Lima Senior — Football. Varsity, JV and freshman boys and girls basketball, wrestling.
Lima Central Catholic — Football. Varsity, JV and freshman basketball. Wrestling. Swimming.
Shawnee — Football and boys and girls soccer were available on the school’s Facebook page. All winter sports played in the gym are streamed through the National Federation of High Schools network.
Columbus Grove — All high school and junior high games. Delphos Jefferson — Boys and girls varsity and JV basketball. Ottawa-Glandorf — All boys and girls basketball games.
Kalida — Boys and girls varsity, JV and junior high basketball. Elida — Boys and girls JV and varsity basketball. Ottoville — All games played in the main gym.
All of the Northwest Conference’s schools live stream events using different platforms. Most of the NWC schools use either the West Ohio Sports Network (WOSN) or YouTube.
“We were one of the first schools to decide to use WOSN as our streaming provider,”Zerbe said. “In partnering with them, we purchased live stream equipment that is versatile and mobile (easy to move to different locations). WOSN has allowed us to keep the proceeds from fees we charge to stream games (try to keep the fees comparable to ticket prices) as they are using it as a service to the community.”
The Putnam County League approved streaming as a group. “That was a league decision to get it live streamed. That was a long drawn out meeting trying to get everything figured out. That’s when we decided on the ticket policies and the live streaming,” Ottoville athletic director Mark Odenweller said.
Lima Senior is not a newcomer to streaming games, something it has had the capability of doing since the 2015-2016 school year.
“We’ve been live streaming our events since we got the new scoreboard. Part of the package was we were able to purchase a TriCaster, which allows us to do video productions. We can add announcers, we can do commercials, we can do it all. We’ve been live streaming for quite a while now. It’s been at least five years,” Lima Senior athletic director John Zell said.
Lima Senior charges $10 to watch a live stream, with $2 going to the platform company, Meridix, and $8 staying with Lima Senior.
“The last couple years we did a lot of our live streams for free on YouTube. But with the pandemic and kind of having the opportunity to recoup lost revenue from ticket sales it helps,” Zell said.
Elida is one of the schools new to streaming this school year.
“It’s the first year we’ve done it. We just added the cameras in the Fieldhouse this year. We had already planned to get those cameras, I don’t know that we were positive about doing live streams before this,” Elida athletic director Dave Evans said. “The cameras are HUDL cameras, which are what the coaches use to do scouting.
“We did some live streaming through WOSN in the Tip-Off Classic and made a little bit of money. Lately we’ve been doing it for free. I heard of some schools have made quite a bit of money off of charging — some of the schools that are having really good seasons,” he said.
LCC athletic director John Schnieders said, “It’s been an experience where forming partnerships with folks from other schools and with WOSN has helped me learn what tools are out there to get the equipment and platform we need with minimal investment.”
Most athletic directors expect streaming to continue even when the pandemic becomes more manageable and think it could be a popular alternative on bad weather nights during football season and for other reasons.
“I think it will continue but I think there will be more schools that, once we get through this, will be looking at maybe putting on a little bit of a charge to watch it to make up for some of the revenue on one of those nights when your true diehards will be there but those who are kind of on the fence and will maybe stay home,” Evans said.
Zerbe said, “Now that we have done this, we realize that live streaming is not going away. Even though restrictions may be lifted in the future, we see a population of people who will not return to live events. The goal now is to improve our quality of streaming so that it is enjoyable for the viewer.”
Schnieders expects streaming to continue but hopes big in-person crowds return to games soon.
“I think streaming is not going away after the restrictions are lifted. We are getting viewers from friends and relatives all over the country. But I hope when this is all over the local folks will come back in person because all of us rely on their support to not only fund our departments but more importantly to create that special environment of community support for the student athletes.
“I cannot wait to see full stadiums and crowded gyms again,” he said.