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7 Steps to Live Stream a Local Sporting Event Like a Pro

In the age of streaming video, as long as you have the right equipment you can live stream just about anything for the world to see. Here's how to make sure remote fans can enjoy every play of the game.

When national sports broadcasting was the only way to catch a game, you couldn’t even imagine watching a local minor league baseball game or roller derby bout on TV. In the age of streaming video, as long as you have the right equipment you can live stream just about anything for the world to see.

The cost of delivering content online is no longer as prohibitive as it once was. A growing number of local sports organizations have turned to mobile device streaming to offer remote fans an opportunity to tune in live, without the expensive equipment and production of professional streaming. Live streaming local sports promotes upcoming events and creates an archive of on-demand video for fans and players to relive all the action.

This article highlights the equipment and services required to set up and offer live streaming capabilities for a local sports team or league, and shares best practices for offering a premium experience.

Step 1: Decide on platforms and features

Paint a realistic picture of your fanbase. Knowing how your fans engage with your event can help inform which features to offer in the streaming package. Unlike traditional broadcast, streaming events offers a more personalized viewing experience. Catering to personal device preferences will be important in driving engagement. Targeting highly popular devices such as smartphones, tablets, and personal computers will give your fans a variety of viewing experiences to choose from.

Step 2: Select a streaming platform

Understand the different viewing experiences that various off-site services will offer. At a minimum, you'll want a streaming service that can relay the published stream to end-users. Platforms that use cloud transcoding can also offer a wider variety of resolutions and formats that you wouldn't be able to offer with an onsite encoder. Some streaming platforms offer the ability to give content recommendations, enable monetization, and automate closed-captioning. Selecting the right streaming platform is paramount in driving fan engagement and broadening a fan base. There are streaming platforms available for every budget, and you can even run advertisements on video streams to help cover production costs or raise funds.

Step 3: Establish a strong network connection

Verify there is enough bandwidth to deliver the event. You will want access to a dedicated network connection. A good rule of thumb is to double your overall throughput to establish deliverable bandwidth. If you’re planning to deliver a total of 3 Mbps of content, a 6 Mbps upload is ideal. Backup bandwidth, like bonded wireless data access points, are also useful to establish a secure connection. Of note, when streaming sports, you will need a lot more bandwidth than for a typical talking head broadcast. Additionally, depending on the sport, your stream definition may vary: For 720p streaming, 5 to 10 Mbps is ideal, while 10 to 20 Mbps is ideal 1080p streams. Higher bandwidths will allow for crisper streaming as well as proper transcoding and adaptive bit rates, ensuring all your viewers have a smooth viewing experience.

Step 4: Add professional streaming elements

Consider additional details that make the viewer experience more engaging. For example, features like lower thirds, score overlays, and an announcer to guide viewers and provide commentary create a more entertaining, immersive, and polished experience, and increases fan engagement. You should also seek out a skilled audio technician. They can maintain a great mix of music, sounds, and announcer commentary for your audience. These additional elements don’t have to break the bank. Many times you can get volunteers to help with announcing or graphic design, which helps them develop their own demo reels.

Step 5: Conduct site surveys

Survey the site to ensure the broadcast will run smoothly. Knowing camera layout and cabling before the day of setup will save time. Be mindful of the event timing and setting, as you’ll likely want to avoid the sunset creating glare or wind impacting audio quality. Additional details—like making sure you have a way to keep your cabling hidden and secure and having a safe area for tripods—are important. I don't know how many times I have setup my tripods on risers to get that perfect shot only to have a spectator sit down right in front of it. It’s best to find places for tripods that are perfect for you but not great for the audience to avoid crowding.

Step 6: Pre-position cameras

Planning the camera setup is also crucial. Having multiple cameras allow a producer to switch angles seamlessly to keep fans immersed in gameplay. When positioning cameras, it’s important to understand the axis of action—subjects should remain in the same position relative to one another—since crossing this axis can create bewildering footage. Action should always be moving towards or away from the camera, which often requires multiple cameras. This allows you to change shots to avoid viewer fatigue, something that could cause viewers to tune out. 

Step 7: Optimize the production and encoding

Once set up, much of the work is similar to any live video production. Camera feeds, audio, and graphics are fed to a switcher that creates a master stream for delivery. This is then fed to the video encoder to create the streams that will be delivered to the video platform. There are a variety of encoder lines, such as single to multichannel input appliances that accept analog, SDI, NDI, HDMI, or IP-based inputs that can best meet your needs and price point.

Live streaming sports requires significantly higher bit rates than streaming talking heads, however, due to compression and the level of movement between frames for sporting events. If you typically doing a talking head or two-shot at 720p 2.5 Mbps bitrate, you’ll want to double that to 5 Mbps. The higher bitrate will offer a clean and crisp look.

Conclusion

With all that in mind, there are a plethora of other variables to consider when producing a sports live stream.

The operation could be outsourced to a company that can handle the filming, streaming, hosting, and monetization, but outsourcing can be costly. If you decide to stream events yourself, it’s important to select a streaming platform that automates the majority of the process, drives audience engagement, and creates seamless distribution. This should include cross-device streaming, automated closed-captioning and content recommendations, archiving, and monetization. If you stick to the steps above, you’ll offer a highly professional and engaging extension of your live event, giving fans a way to enjoy local sports, even from afar.

 [Editor's Note: This is a contributed article from IBM. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]