For fans who really want to keep up with their favorite high school football team, there is an option that they are taking advantage of — especially in Georgia.
In 2013, the National Federation of High Schools teamed with Atlanta-based PlayOn! Sports to form the NFHS Network, a subscription-based streaming service that broadcasts high school sports on the internet. Today, the network is turning a profit, and the state of Georgia is a big reason why. That’s because the Peach State is the network’s top revenue-generating state in the country.
“Georgia does an unbelievable job because they originally worked with PlayOn! Sports before the NFHS Network was created,” said NFHS Network CEO Mark Koski, whose group charges $69.99 per yearly subscription and streams several different sports during the high school season.
Last year, Georgia high schools brought in around $142,000, making it the top revenue-producing state, ahead of California, which came in at distant No. 2 at $109,000. Last season, the network achieved profitability for the first time. Since its inception, the network has paid out $2.8 million to schools nationwide.
After the NFHS takes its cut — Koski wouldn’t give specifics on percentages — a portion of the proceeds from subscriptions go back to the school, which gives it additional and much-needed extra sources of revenue.
Clarke Central, which is one of the Georgia schools that have used the NFHS Network since its inception, brought in approximately $2,800. Bacon County, another network-launching school, also made that amount, although in other years it has earned as much as $3,500. Bacon County plugs paid sponsors during its broadcast for additional revenue it doesn’t have to share with the network.
“The NFHS Network has turned broadcasting into a revenue-generator for the program,” said Buster Crumpton who, with Chuck Wegmann, forms the broadcasting team for football coverage. “Twenty-five-hundred bucks may not seem like a lot, but for a high school program it is; trust me.”
Broadcasting games as a way of making profit wasn’t always possible. In fact, before PlayOn! Sports partnered with the NFHS and adopted the subscription model, it operated independently and charged schools $1,500 to broadcast on its platform. Both Clarke Central and Bacon County were schools in Georgia that paid for the service.
“We were at a point in our football program where we’d kicked the idea of broadcasting our games via the internet,” longtime Clarke Central athletic director Jon Ward said. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Over the years, we’ve built up a nice little audience.”
When Clarke Central and Bacon County first began streaming their games, it was a concern — especially before the subscription-based model — that doing so would affect the ticket gates. But their concerns quickly were alleviated once they saw the broadcasts didn’t impact sales, but rather expanded the audience to those who couldn’t attend games — for example, family in another state, service members overseas and those unable to travel, such as the elderly.
“Folks who want to go to the games are going no matter what,” said Brent Johnson, an engineering and technology instructor at Bacon County who runs the student broadcasting program for NFHS Network broadcasts. “It’s the others who can’t make it to the game who will subscribe.”
Fans aren’t the only ones who use the service. Every game that is streamed around the country is stored on the NFHS Network’s website archive and can be viewed any time. So players and coaches also subscribe.
“For the players, (the archive is) great,” Crumpton said. “How many times has a player in the past wished they had video of a big moment? Especially the kid that makes one big play all year, or maybe in his whole career. Now he’s got that memory. It also cuts down on the Al Bundy-type tall tales.”
“It’s a big scouting tool that a number of high school and college coaches use,” Koski said. “Not only can they see upcoming opponents, but they can see various schemes and plays that are being run throughout the country.”
To broadcast games, schools rely on volunteer labor, so some productions offer more quality than others. At Clarke Central, it’s a rewarding labor of love for Crumpton and Wegmann that that began as a way to cover their sons playing baseball and football. At Bacon County, students get a head start in a potential broadcasting career, whether as announcers or as part of the production crew.
“It gives our kids confidence in themselves,” Johnson said. “A lot of these kids I utilize for the broadcasts aren’t participating in anything other than technology. I’ve had several in the past go on to journalism careers and degrees in journalism and mass communications.”