COVID-19 pandemic: Online broadcasts keep fans connected to favorite teams
Coming off a boys soccer season in which he was named MSL-Cardinal Division Player of the Year and first-team all-state in Division III, Worthington Christian senior Tyler Kindberg transitioned directly into a boys basketball season in which he and the Warriors had high expectations.
Those were maintained during a hot start – the Warriors were 11-0 entering the week of Jan. 4 – and Kindberg’s family shared his and the team’s excitement like never before.
Thanks to livestreaming, fans who have been unable to attend games because of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic restrictions are following their teams in increasing numbers online.
“My son’s grandparents never got to watch his basketball games because they all live so far away in Pennsylvania and New York,” said Tyler’s mother, Kelly Kindberg. “We consider it one of the few positives of COVID that they now get to watch every one of his senior-year games via (a YouTube) livestream.”
Several area outlets that have carried events for particular schools for several years have reported dramatic increases in listeners and viewers during the pandemic when attendance generally has been limited to close family members of competitors.
“The ones we’re catering to are all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, anybody who lives out of town and can’t make it,” said Eric Welch, who calls games for several Hilliard Bradley teams for Diamond Sports Media, which he founded in 2019. “People want to go to games but if they can’t, that’s why we’re here.”
Aaron Cassady, whose Gameday Broadcasting Sports Network carries Dublin Jerome, Hartley and New Albany football and basketball games as well as select contests of other sports, noted “a five- or six-time increase in listeners” to New Albany football games during the fall.
Online outlets dedicated to schools such as DeSales, Groveport, Westerville Central and Westerville North experienced similar growth.
“We knew it’d be bigger. We didn’t quite know the impact we would end up having,” said Cassady, who founded GBSN in 2009 and has called New Albany football games since 2010. “It goes back to our roots, really. I grew up in a town, Marietta, where radio covered anything. Everyone knew when and where to tune in.”
Cassady estimated that the Eagles’ football opener against Lancaster drew about 1,500 listeners on GBSN, not counting viewers who watched the National Federation of High Schools Network video feed that simulcasted GBSN's audio.
Approximately 10,000 high schools nationwide, including 116 in Ohio, use video provided by the NFHS Network. Big Walnut, Canal Winchester, DeSales, Dublin, Olentangy, Pickerington, Westerville and Worthington schools are among their local clients.
Automated Pixellot cameras use an algorithm to automatically follow game action. Schools are provided with two cameras, one for the stadium and another placed at center court in the gymnasium.
Unlimited access to all live and archived NFHS events costs $10.99 per month. Schools do not pay a fee to be a part of the network and outlets generally do not pay rights fees to schools to broadcast their games, instead making money through advertising.
“The thing has snowballed. We’re really excited about our growth,” said Mark Koski, vice president of the NFHS Network. “This is an opportunity to make sure no fan is left out.”
Facebook, Periscope and Twitch also are among the platforms utilized by various outlets or individual teams.
Because of the pandemic, the Ohio High School Athletic Association lifted its ban on live video streaming of Friday football games in early August. Livestreaming already was permitted for all other regular-season events, including football games played on other days.
“That was the big difference,” said Rick Cooper, who created the Groveport Sports Network in 2012 to broadcast Cruisers games but since has added teams at Pickerington Central and Westerville North. “We have a very strong on-demand following. That was still there (during this past football season), but (live) video absolutely helped.”
According to OHSAA director of communications Tim Stried, schools control live video rights for regular-season home events. Outlets can carry some postseason games, but that is subject to the presence of the NFHS Network or Spectrum, the OHSAA’s television partner.
It has not been determined if live streaming of Friday football will continue in 2021.
“I bet we’ll talk about that in the spring,” Stried said. “I hope to do a survey of all member schools in January to gather feedback.”
Numbers aside, area broadcasters acknowledged taking pride in serving as a lifeline for disenfranchised fans.
“Lots of family members just needed an outlet,” said Brent Ford, who is in his seventh year broadcasting Westerville Central boys basketball and football for the Central Ohio Sports Network. “This added a little bit of normalcy.”