It’s been seven years since the NFHS partnered with PlayOn! Sports to launch the NFHS Network – a streaming service that has covered nearly 325,000 live high school events since August 2013. However, with social distancing practices continuing to take precedence and imposed public gathering restrictions lingering in virtually every state, it is becoming more and more apparent that the NFHS Network’s eighth year of existence will be its most important.
As the fall sports season begins with a forecast that is anything but traditional, the prospects of fans being able to pack their local high school facilities for events seem increasingly doubtful. Although the absence of a gameday experience for fans would be melancholic in itself, the harm done to school-sponsored programs based on lost ticket sales and concessions revenue could be disastrous.
To provide financial assistance to schools dealing with these unprecedented challenges and to prepare for policies that would limit or prohibit in-person fan attendance, the NFHS Network has created the High School Support Program.
Thanks to a generous capital raise from investors, the High School Support Program (HSSP) offers NFHS member schools two Pixellot automated cameras at no cost – outside of a one-time installation fee of $2,500 – in exchange for a five-year commitment to stream events on the NFHS Network. In addition to the $5,000 in cost savings for each camera’s retail value, schools collect 10 percent of the subscription dollars they generate and 100 percent of the funds from any advertisements sold for their broadcasts.
“Any time you can have a backdrop of hundreds or thousands of fans – that’s what high school sports are all about,” said Mark Koski, CEO of the NFHS Network. “But, if we’re not able to have fans or there are fan limitations, the High School Support Program gives us the opportunity to make sure no fans miss a play of any game this year. That’s very important to us.” Schools that join the HSSP can also take advantage of an enhanced revenue share, which presents two extra pathways for bolstering returns.
The first amenity is a “Donations” tab that appears on the subscription checkout page. In the process of ordering a subscription, supporters are able to donate to the school(s) of their choosing, with schools accruing 100 percent of the proceeds. Secondly, HSSP schools receive a supplemental portion of Network income derived from fans who purchase annual passes, and are incentivized with a larger percentage as more yearly subscriptions are sold.
“With the pandemic, we knew we had a major opportunity to lighten the burdens schools are carrying in these trying times,” Koski said. “Because of that, we also knew we needed to find ways to get other people to help out as well, and we were able to achieve that with the enhanced revenue share.”
Since the launch of the HSSP on July 7, roughly 600 schools have decided to become part of the School Broadcast Program (SBP) – another name for the body of NFHS Network member institutions – and over 1,000 Pixellot units have been installed. While the influx of schools has allowed the SBP to eclipse 5,000 members nationwide, Koski expects that number to double in the coming months.
“Right now, we’re working with an additional 5,000 schools who have expressed interest in joining through the High School Support Program, and we don’t have any kind of deadline for this promotion,” he said. “With the number of Pixellots we’re hoping to have installed, we’ll be able to stream an estimated 350,000 events in the 2020-21 school year, which would be about twice as many as we’ve done in the past.”
Partnering with Pixellot in December 2016 served as an explosive catalyst for the NFHS Network’s growth. The union not only diversified the types of schools the Network could pursue for its membership, but by eliminating the necessity for a supervisor or student production crew at every event, it expanded the range of activities that could be streamed. Prior to the Pixellot partnership, the NFHS Network averaged just 30 annual streams from each of its member schools. Since then, that number has swelled to 130.
“That’s what’s great about the Pixellot cameras,” said Koski. As much as we love the student-produced events – that’s the backbone of the NFHS Network – we knew there was no way to cover every high school event through a student-based production. With freshman games and (junior varsity) games – it just wasn’t happening – so we had to find an automated solution and Pixellot has filled that void very nicely for us.”
And sports aren’t the only programs that stand to benefit from the HSSP. Cheer and dance competitions, band, choir, theatre, speech and debate festivals and a myriad of other non-athletic events all have their place on the NFHS Network and may even reap higher value from streaming if attendance restrictions are more stringent indoors as expected.
“The NFHS Network still has one goal in mind and that is to stream every high school event that there is – that’s about 2 million events annually,” said Koski. “We’re constantly looking at all the aspects of the high school realm to be able to showcase as many events as possible.”
That “as-many-events-as-possible” mentality was in full effect this past spring, when dozens of schools showed commencement ceremonies on the NFHS Network for the first time in its history.
The Frisco (Texas) Independent School District made tremendous use of the opportunity, as it streamed graduations for all 10 of its affiliated high schools. A combined 178,000 viewers were able to witness these events virtually, with 33 percent of them tuning in from out-ofstate and 10 percent looking on from other countries.
With $3.6 million paid out to schools through the SBP and more than $21 million given back in rights fees to state associations, the NFHS Network continues to forge ahead in its support of all facets of the high school experience. The NFHS Network’s mission has always been to connect people with access to the maximum number of high school events. This year, however, that mission seems to mean something entirely different.
“We love high school, and this is why the NFHS Network was created – to show all those great football, basketball, volleyball and softball games, activities and performing arts events – even graduations – all those things are a part of it,” Koski said. “And the great thing is, we’re now able to provide an outlet for fans to support their local communities and their schools in a time when there are limited ways to accomplish that.”
Nate Perry is coordinator of media relations at the National Federation of State High School Associations.