As the NFHS Network enters its seventh year of operation this fall, it approaches a significant milestone. Nearly 230,000 events have been broadcast on the Network since its launch in 2013.
The NFHS Network, which streams events live and on-demand on its website at www.nfhsnetwork.com, is a joint venture of the NFHS and PlayOn! Sports. It aggregates the sports media and related rights of state high school athletic/activity associations to bring education-based, high school activities to millions of homes in America.
Currently, the NFHS Network’s School Broadcast Program (SBP) allows students to get involved outside of participating in the activity itself. In the SBP, students fill the roles of commentators, camera operators and producers, guided by a school advisor.
“The NFHS Network is committed to finding avenues for all students to participate in high school activities,” said Mark Koski, NFHS Network CEO and NFHS director of marketing. “Whatever role we can play in bettering the lives of young people is exactly what we set out to do. After all, our motto is ‘High School Happens Here,’ so why wouldn’t we work to find as many ways as possible to get students involved?”
While the SBP has seen success, not all schools are able to field a group of students to produce events. Most recently, the development of the Pixellot camera system has given schools interested in having their events on the NFHS Network an additional avenue in making that a reality.
“High schools have already been taking advantage of the School Broadcast Program,” Koski said. “Now, Pixellot is providing more flexibility to schools that might not have enough students available to participate.”
The Pixellot camera system is a fully automated production that includes an auto-tracking feature that enables cameras to follow the action during sporting events, including panning and zooming. Additionally, no camera operator is required to operate the equipment, on-screen score graphics can be synced with the venue scoreboard and coaches can utilize practice and game film through existing coaching software.
More than 3,000 high schools are already using the NFHS Network’s automated production technology, a figure that is expected to climb even higher during the coming school year. For a one-time payment of $5,000, a high school will receive two Pixellot camera systems from the NFHS Network. The additional Pixellot unit allows schools to cover both indoor and outdoor sports.
“This is just another way we continue to work with schools to showcase their content – all of their activities and events involving athletics, speech and debate, performing arts and more – on the NFHS Network for the world to see,” Koski said.
The NFHS Network has covered a diverse array of events, including those outside of traditional sports. Non-traditional broadcasts are provided on the network free of charge, and a subscription to sporting events on the NFHS Network is $9.95 per month.
“We had more than 100,000 events on the NFHS Network last year, and 20,000 were non-traditional events such as graduations, music concerts and dramatic performances. There was a biology class that used the NFHS Network to watch its chickens hatch,” Koski said. “That is the pinnacle of what we are trying to accomplish in education-based activities.”
Beyond streaming, the NFHS Network has partnered with Go- Fan to provide a digital ticketing option to high schools. Digital ticketing allows spectators to gain entry into an event by redeeming and validating their ticket on a mobile device in front of game personnel. Additionally, authorized game personnel can have access to live, real-time reporting data.
“From a security standpoint, digital ticketing is a no-brainer,” Koski said. “It takes the cash element out of it. Imagine having to carry $5,000 after a Friday or Saturday night game in your car before taking it to the bank on Monday.”
With digital ticketing, schools have the opportunity to better track their athletic revenues. On the next business day following the event, activities directors can receive an event reconciliation report.
“Accurately tracking every dollar is very important to all schools,” Koski said. “Using digital ticketing gives activities administrators one less thing to worry about during their events.”
For schools that use season passes, GoFan has instituted an option for digital passes and are redeemed the same way as standard tickets. Passes are also validated to prevent ‘pass-backs’ – a practice used by spectators to receive multiple entries on the same pass. After the event, passes automatically reset for the next event. Additional custom options including punch cards, all-sport passes and student passes are also available.
Last school year, GoFan delivered more than 846,000 digital tickets to mobile devices of high school sports fans – 85 percent more than the previous year.
“We’re excited to continue working with state associations and schools to expand the use of digital ticketing,” Koski said. “From the security benefits, to the ease of access, the digital ticketing platform continues to grow.”
The NFHS Network is also expanding into a new education-based environment, as the NFHS and several state associations have become involved with esports, or electronic sports. Esports, a digital multi-player video game platform, allows players to compete simultaneously in a competitive environment.
Managed through a partnership with PlayVS, esports is played in two seasons: October to January and February to May. While games are approved at the state level by participating state associations, popular games for high school esports include League of Legends, Rocket League and SMITE.
The participation fee for students to access PlayVS is $16 a month, which can either be paid by the school or student. One of the major benefits to esports is the limited travel necessary to field a team. There is no traveling during the regular season since all matchups happen in competitions played through the PlayVS platform online. Traveling is typically reserved for championships.
“Esports is an important way to reach additional students who might not be interested in the current activities offered,” Koski said. “We’ve already hit the 12 million student participation mark on a national level. Perhaps esports is a way where we can reach the 13 million participation plateau.”
Just as in traditional sports, students must find a balance between practice, games, school work and sleep. In a formal esports team, practice and games schedules can be set just like traditional sports, with rules regulating the amount of time spent on devices. Additionally, the esports coach can be a liaison to discuss concerns with parents and develop parents to help students succeed both in school through academics and extracurricular activities.
Currently, 12 state associations are on board and are actively engaging in esports. The engagement varies from merely sanctioning the sports to offering a state championship.
“Seeing these efforts pay off is what motivates our team of 80 to work hard on behalf of our member state associations and schools each and every day,” Koski said.
Luke Modrovsky was a 2019 summer intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. He is a senior sports management and communication studies student at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.