NFHS Network becoming popular choice in wake of pandemic
With the possibility of high school sports returning in the fall but fans not being allowed to watch, Geneva athletic director Dave Carli was looking for solutions.
The NFHS Network made sense.
Already growing in popularity at schools to broadcast their games online, NFHS is attracting even more interest given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools pay for the camera, which can be installed in a gym or field and has a motion sensor to follow the ball without anyone operating it. The system turns on and off by itself.
The games can then be viewed online, giving grandparents who live in Florida a chance to see their grandchildren play ... or perhaps in the fall, parents and classmates the same opportunity if high school games are being played in empty gyms or with no fans in the stands for football and other sports.
"We have been looking to purchase the NFHS camera system this past year and with the pandemic it seemed like perfect timing," Carli said.
NFHS Network, a company that started in 2013 through a joint partnership with state associations and PlayOn! Sports in Atlanta, has cameras in over 100 high schools in Illinois. It's also growing across the country with about 4,000 active schools.
A school can either purchase the Pixellot system and have all of their games produced through an automated system, or sign up with NFHS and stream their sports by using a team of students and volunteers.
"While the summer months are typically busy for us welcoming new schools to the NFHS Network, this year has been especially busy," said Lauren Scherer, vice president of marketing for NFHS. "With the uncertainty of how fans will consume games moving forward, there have for sure been more talks this year about streaming high school sports than ever before. The unique position we have over our competitors is we offer a product that is 100 percent automated with no on-site employees needed to record games."
Dundee-Crown instilled two cameras last winter in its gym and field house. Athletic director Steve Gertz said he's considering adding one to its stadium because of the pandemic.
"Everyone has access to our games," Gertz said. "There is a fee for users, but it is reasonable and allows you to watch our teams at other schools that have the system too. We have averaged about 30 users per basketball games and as many as 200 during our tournaments. We have heard lots of positives from extended families who live out of state that they were able to watch their grandchildren or family members."
Gertz said Dundee-Crown also broadcasts assemblies, middle school promotions and school related activities.
Lake Park started using the network during the 2019-20 winter season according to athletic director Peter Schauer. The boosters paid for the hardware system while the school district pays an annual licensing fee that allows Lake Park to provide home content without a paid subscription.
"NFHS Network has been a great resource for Lake Park to offer our fans the opportunity to view our home athletic events in a live webcast format when they are unable to attend in person, or family members and alumni that follow the school but live out of the area," Schauer said. "The plan was always to expand to our outdoor facility in the fall of 2020 to offer even more live webcasts of different sports. In retrospect, we realize now we are fortunate to have the system in place if COVID-19 restrictions do not allow our public to attend games for part of the upcoming school year."
Carli said Geneva installed a camera in both its main gym and its outdoor stadium. They plan on using it for upper level contests in boys and girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball, football, boys and girls soccer and boys and girls lacrosse.
Carli is looking forward to more uses.
"Once the game is complete our coach then can download the video and use it for film breakdown with our athletes," Carli said. "Our athletes also can use the game film to send to college coaches for recruiting purposes.
"So many times we hear about grandparents in a different state that cannot watch their grandchildren play in a game or parents that travel for work have to miss a game. Now our athletes and visiting team families can watch the game in real time from the internet no matter where they are at in the world. With the current pandemic it will give those individuals that have an illness and can't be in public and around others an opportunity to watch the match or game from their home."
Glenbard South has used the NFHS Network since before current athletic director Tim Carlson arrived in 2014.
The Raiders have cameras in their gym and stadium. They use them for varsity and lower-level competition.
Carlson expects page views to increase this year.
"I imagine that our viewership numbers will go up should we have to limit fan attendance at contests," Carlson said. "It will be dependent on us to promote this more heavily should this be how we interact with fans once we return to competition. It is possible that we may look at broadcasting different sports as well should fans not be allowed so as to reach those groups as well."