The streaming of live high school sports events became a trendy idea several years ago with many schools installing cameras and making the option available.
Now, in the time of COVID-19, it could be the answer to watching games safely.
In Prince William County, high quality digital cameras were installed at high school fields and gyms within the last two years. Fauquier County is putting them in its three high schools right now.
The games will be streamed on the National Federation of State High School Association’s network with games available on all devices. A yearly plan costs a subscriber less than $6 a month.
In Fauquier County, the installation of the Pixellot-brand digital cameras in the gyms and stadiums costs $2,500 per school. The central office will assist with the initial installation, but the schools will be responsible going forward.
"This is a great use of technology in a pandemic," said Major Warner, Fauquier County's associate superintendent for instruction. "What it eliminates is the 'Who gets the 40 tickets?’ Here is an option for you to watch from the comfort and safety of your home. This is part of what I see as the new reality for the foreseeable future."
Unity Reed activities director Kevin Turner said a Pixellot camera has been in place above the press box at his school for a year, but has not been used. “It definitely provides another option,” he said, adding, “I’m not sure it’s a change that’s a welcome change. In reality, folks want to see their kids play in person.”
With high school sports set to resume next month, administrators are struggling with how to deal with limits of 250 people at indoor contests and 250 per field outside. In Fauquier County, administrators are contemplating allowing only home school spectators at home events.
"It would be tough for me to tell Fauquier they've got 50 tickets and we've got 50 tickets," said Kettle Run activities director Paul Frye. "My kids' parents get to watch them play when we're at home,” he said, noting Liberty and Fauquier would follow the same policy.
"I believe that's the easiest way to handle this," Frye said, adding allowing the athletes to return to competition is the prime focus. "We're not here so mom and dad can watch them play. We're here so the kids can play."
In Prince William County, online ticketing is being looked at as a way to regulate the interest. “The allotments present positives and negatives,” said Unity Reed’s Turner.
In Fauquier County, school administrators are excited to use the new cameras, believing in the technology and the need.
The camera is fully autonomous and covers the entire playing surface in a panoramic view and automatically follows the play, and is said to produce quality production. The system is synched with the scoreboards to display the games’ scores and times at the bottom of the screen.
Games are streamed through collaboration between the National Federation of State High School Associations and PlayOn! Sports of Atlanta. The service has operated since 2013. More than 300,000 contests were streamed last year. Subscribers may watch any available game at a participating school in the country.
Fauquier High AD Mark Ott said there is a five-year contract to join the network. After three years, the schools will share with the revenue generated by subscriptions. Monthly subscriptions are $10.99 and may be canceled at any time. A yearly rate of $69.99 ($5.83 monthly) also is available.
"I think this is going to be a great thing," Ott said. "It's going to benefit people out of state or area who never get to see their grand kids or family members play."
Once completed each contest will be archived and available for view at any time. The stream will be available on any device.
Ott said schools also may sell up to three ads immediately that will scroll at the bottom of the screen during the contest.
Each school will input schedules and start times into the NFHS’ system. After calibration, broadcasting will automatically begin at a certain time before the game.
Ott received an email Friday requesting an appointment to install the digital Pixellot Prime cameras at Fauquier. One camera will be in the gymnasium and cover basketball, volleyball, wrestling and cheer competitions. The second will be in the football stadium and stream football, lacrosse, field hockey and soccer. Track meets also will be available except at Liberty because the Eagle track lies outside of the stadium.
Unity Reed’s Turner said the thought behind streaming was to beam games to relatives in other areas, and his parents have not used it locally.
“It was originally installed for folks with family members not nearby. If you lived in Phoenix or New York you could watch a kid play basketball or volleyball. Some schools have taken advantage of it, but none of our parents have,” Turner said.
Due to major gym construction, Unity Reed’s gym camera is currently disabled.
“I’m not sure if it will be repaired for our schedule, but if it is, yes, we can live stream,” he said.