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How to Live Stream Local Sports Events

This article will highlight the equipment and services required to set up deliver live streams for local sports and walk through the best practices to offer a premium experience.

In the days of broadcast-only media, the idea of catching minor league baseball games or roller derby bouts on TV seemed ludicrous, but the age of streaming video has changed the game for local sports teams and their fans, Today, anyone with the right equipment can broadcast and publish their sporting events for all the world to see.

We’ve all grown used to the idea of streaming major sporting events like the Olympics or Major League Baseball, but the cost of delivering content online has dropped to the point where even local sports teams can afford to stream their events to their fans around the world. Live streaming sporting events can serve as a way to promote the event, connect distant fans, and create a permanent archive of past events. It's even possible to monetize the event in order to offset the costs associated with streaming.

This article will highlight the equipment and services required to set up deliver live streams for local sports and walk through the best practices to offer a premium experience.

Why Stream?

There are a number of reasons why you may want to stream sports events. An obvious one is to allow remote fans to participate. Just because your team or league may not be the New York Yankees doesn’t mean all of your fans live within driving distance of your venue; and even if they did, it doesn’t mean all of them can make it on game day. A streaming option allows those distant fans to connect and watch alongside everyone else.

Adding social media elements (such as a Twitter feed or Facebook page) further allows them to participate. Once these practices are in place, using them to grow the fan base is more than possible; it should be the expectation.

As you continue to stream games over time, you are also potentially building an archive of your games (depending on how you choose to host and deliver your events). These archives are useful for fans to catch up or re-watch favorite games, as well as for the team itself to review games.

Both of these live and on-demand options can be delivered for free, but fans are often willing to pay (especially if there was a cost associated with attending in person already). There are numerous ways a sporting event can be monetized through advertising or a subscription pay wall; viewers may be willing to pay a price to watch the live games or one-time costs for the on-demand archives. Most likely your particular streaming model will be a hybrid of these options, offering a low barrier of entry to allow those new to the service to try it out, then pay more as they begin to access more options and view a richer, more premium service.

At a high level, streaming events look very similar, whether it’s a game or a town hall meeting. Camera feeds are combined with graphics by a video switcher and then fed to an on-site encoder. This encoder creates all the necessary versions for delivering to the end users. These streams are then delivered distribution to the end users.

Ideally, this is a service that combines the other services you will need, such as transcoding, HD streams, advertising capabilities, and the creation of the video player and landing pages that host the content for the end users. But once you go deeper into the production and setup, the complexity of every work flow is different. A sporting event in the round is totally different from a town hall in delivery and setup.

Planning Before You Stream

Before you dive into streaming an event, you’ll want to do some planning. Much of the preparation used for planning a live event can be reused for the streaming broadcast, but some extra items such as graphics packaging should be considered in order to make your broadcast look as professional as possible. You'll also want an announcer or host of the online broadcast who can help guide the viewer through the event as well as provide some commentary along the way for action that may not translate visually. If you can afford to have more than one announcer, go for it, as the act of them conversing about the event helps build a narrative for the viewer to follow.

Site surveys are always a great idea, if doing these streams occasionally vs. doing a permanent installation of equipment. Knowing the layout of the location for camera planning and cabling before the day of setup will help with time and making sure everything is perfect. The time of the event is crucial too, because it can cause unforeseen issues, such as when the glare from a sunset makes a particular camera view unusable, or the wind picks up and can cause issues with audio.

Camera Location

Having multiple cameras isn’t always a requirement, but it is useful for quickly following the action. Rather than trying to follow a constantly moving and zooming camera (which will lead to viewer fatigue), camera angles should be cleanly switched between multiple cameras covering the sporting event, making it possible to follow the action more easily. It should also be done in a way to make the viewers feel they are part of the action.

Cameras should be stationed to allow for the widest possible coverage as well as include a wide angle “master shot” that can be used when not tracking a specific play or when things like timeouts occur. Play your camera angles as much as possible beforehand, but be prepared to tweak them when on-site. You should also provide a way for camera operators to communicate with one another and the master control (producer/director) so that they are aware when their camera is live, and allowing the director to request that the person reframe or change shots.

When setting up the cameras it’s important to know the axis of action. You never want to cross the axis of action. This makes the viewer experience basically unwatchable and is very confusing for the viewer to follow. The action should always be coming towards or away from the camera.

It’s not that hard to set up stationary camera with the flow of traffic if you don’t have enough camera operators or experienced operators. With sporting events that are considered in the round (racing, roller derby, and the like), this flowing camera shot will help reduce viewer fatigue and basically make viewers feel like they are in the race or event.