Football spotlight: As streaming takes off, changes coming to postseason broadcasts

Tim Miller knew the crash was coming.

When the coronavirus pandemic overtook the country in late March, Miller’s company, Prepcasts, already was scheduled to live stream several of the state quarterfinal basketball games in the area. After fan restrictions were put in place to limit any potential exposure to COVID-19, Miller’s online audience grew exponentially.

Too big in fact.

Moments into the first games the demand overwhelmed Prepcasts website and crashed it.

Miller had a workaround that day and salvaged the viewing experience for some, but it wasn’t a permanent solution. He upgraded Prepcasts' online distribution over the summer to prevent more outages.

He’s glad he did.

“Our numbers are five times bigger now,” Miller said. “Everyone is home.”

As spectator restrictions have become part of the new normal, streaming is now a vital way for families and fans to continue to watch and support their schools, teams and athletes.

Francis Howell athletics director Sean Erwin has taken his own crash course on streaming. He’s been instrumental in getting Howell Vikings TV up and running so the school can broadcast games and events over a dedicated YouTube channel. Erwin has bought a sound mixer, headphones, mobile hotspots and other technology to try to give the best possible experience to the audience. He said Howell recently reached an agreement with Lindenwood University’s broadcast communications department to have dedicated announcers at basketball games this winter.

Much of the expense of Howell Vikings TV has been supplemented by the community.

“We’ve had a lot of sponsors to support us through the regular season,” Erwin said.

Howell Vikings TV came to life due to circumstances around the pandemic. Any number of area schools have been broadcasting live games for several years. CBC and Chaminade are two of the more high-profile school networks due to their high-profile student athletes. When Jayson Tatum and the Red Devils basketball team were packing gyms every night, the only way a lot of people could see the games were online.

But nobody has been streaming longer than Prepcasts. Founded by Bob Ryan in 2003, it was the first company in the area to provide live video production of high school events. Miller spent seven years as part of Prepcasts staff of broadcasters when he wasn’t teaching communications at Fox High. In 2013, Miller went from employee to owner when bought Prepcasts from Ryan.

Now in his eighth year at the helm, Miller said this fall has been unlike anything he’s ever experienced. Over the past six years he said Prepcasts averaged approximately 250,000 views in a school year.

On the first football Friday night in August, Prepcast had 30,000 hits.

“We’re going to hit 300,000 views (since August) by the end of the month,” Miller said. “That’s crazy.”

The numbers are through the roof and so are the viewing options offered by Prepcasts. Football has always been a staple, as has boys soccer. This fall Prepcasts has dipped its toe into field hockey, swimming, softball and volleyball.

Prepcasts has a stable of about 35 announcers, producers and camera operators it sends out to cover games.

“There are 25 that are working constantly,” Miller said.

On any given day there are between six and seven events available live on Prepcasts' website.

What games and activities get covered depends on who contracts with Prepcasts. This fall the Fox C-6 School District has become a regular partner. As has the Rockwood School District and the Ladue School District. Fort Zumwalt North hired Prepcasts to broadcast its football games. St. Mary’s has been an established partner for its athletics. Ryan, the former owner, often is found on the call for Dragons games.

With Prepcasts’ services in such high demand, Miller not only upgraded his website but invested in more equipment, too. He purchased three new sets of laptops, sound mixers, cameras, tripods and interfaces to link it all together. Prepcasts now has eight “units” it can send into the field on any given day.

“I finished putting the new units together (Wednesday),” Miller said.

Some schools don’t want to foot the bill for Prepcasts services, between $200-250 per event, or don’t have it in their budget. This season Miller said more booster clubs have reached out to hire Prepcasts to show games. Lindbergh’s football booster club hired Prepcasts to show the Flyers this fall. Summit’s booster club had Prepcasts broadcast its junior varsity, freshmen and even middle school football games.

With fall sports starting to transition into postseason play, Prepcasts could be even more in demand than before. However, Miller isn’t sure how it’s going to go.

This season the Missouri State High School Activities Association changed the way postseason games and activities can be broadcast. In the past companies like Prepcasts or member schools could pay MSHSAA a broadcast fee to show the games online for all to watch at no cost to the viewer until it reached the state championship or semifinals, depending on the sport.

This year the postseason will be pay-per-view. Every postseason soccer match and football game will cost $10 per device and can only be viewed on the MSHSAA.tv website. There will be no more YouTube, Facebook Live or other streams available.

In an email to its member schools, MSHSAA said district softball and volleyball games would be free to watch on MSHSAA.tv “to transition the programing change.”

“With the postseason, it’s going to look a little different,” Erwin said. “It’ll be interesting to see how fans react to this.”

MSHSAA said in its email that the schools that broadcast games will receive 20 percent of the revenue generated by the pay-per-view.

Miller is wary of how this new model will play out. He and his band of broadcasters will continue to work for the schools and booster clubs that hired them. But if the revenue generated falls short of costs the difference will have to be made up.

“That’s the gamble,” Miller said. “If you reach my cost we’re splitting the rest of the money. It’s a wash for me.”

Week 9 games to watch