Sports #broadcasting and sports #streaming are two terms that have become mostly synonymous in recent years. The divide between the two in professional sports is still more apparent. Whether it’s a cable sports channel or an over-the-air (#OTA), three-letter channel, watching live sports on a device or computer still usually requires having some sort of paid subscription.
But amateur and pro-am sports production are serving their dedicated fans well by delivering their live video in increasingly diverse ways. Universities and large #esports tournaments can often afford a traditional cable or terrestrial broadcast, but high schools and municipal or recreational leagues don’t have funding for these luxuries. Fortunately, the gear and cost to stream online is more affordable and more capable than ever before. And it keeps getting better.
Nearly every category and type of sport can benefit from video, and most of them stand to benefit tremendously from producing live video. In this white paper, we’re going to look at four distinct categories of sports organizations and discuss how each can live stream their games and events:
Coaches and volunteers who use video for training, promotional, and game-day video assist
Small organizations and schools, meaning local municipal and recreational leagues as well as middle and high school teams
Colleges, universities, and intercollegiate athletic conferences
The exploding world of esports
With this article, we’ll make the case for the benefits of using live video in your sports organization and tell you how to build the most user- and budget-conscious system available to serve your needs.
COACHES AND VOLUNTEERS
“Reviewing tape” or “reviewing film” is a legacy phrase that is still used and applicable for teams and players. The concept stems from players, coaches, and teams watching recorded practice or games of either themselves or opposing teams in order to best understand what needs to change in order to get a win. These things don’t record themselves, but for a small team, having the personnel dedicated to making, editing, and cataloging these “films” is a luxury. Fortunately, every team has its own crew of camera operators since all of us carry around HD cameras in our pockets. Sometimes we call these “phones.”
Smartphone cameras are great, but they can’t do everything. They can’t be everywhere, which is a big problem for recording some sports like football or track and field. The distance from the sidelines can be too far to record good-quality video. And even if you have several people recording different angles
on their phones, how do you take advantage of all of them effectively? One solution is the SlingStudio.
#SlingStudio (Figure 1), from the makers of the Slingbox and Sling TV, is a modular recording, switching, and streaming system that takes the traditional multi-camera live production system and makes it accessible and affordable, even to amateurs. The SlingStudio Hub starts at $999 and can be added on to as needed.
There are many options that can be purchased such as wireless camera adapters, extended batteries, and external recording solutions. But you can start with something as simple as a smartphone and an iPad or Mac computer. Since you can use any iOS or Android device as a camera source with the free SlingStudio Capture app, there’s no need to invest in additional pricey cameras. The iPad or Mac can run the free SlingStudio Console app, which provides the ability to either live-switch a stream of multiple cameras or to simply record and add graphics for later use. There’s even a replay function that could be used for officials. However you use it, the SlingStudio system is an affordable solution that can grow with your organization as you build your team and fanbase.
RECREATIONAL TEAMS AND SMALL SCHOOLS
Rec teams don’t usually have individual budgets to have their own video production teams, but the league might be able to invest in a system or two to use at different games and tournaments. Similarly, high schools, middle schools, and private schools may not invest in systems for each of their sports, but they can purchase one portable solution that can be used in different venues as needed.
For teams in this situation, there are a number of options that will allow them to reach fans far away as well as parents that have multiple children playing multiple sports. PTZOptics cameras are compact, affordable, remotely operable cameras that can be easily moved to different venues without a huge headache. The PTZ cameras offer zooms in 12x to 30x ranges, and the company’s Z Cams (Figure 2) are small and light enough to use for goal lines, baskets, or other primary action spots. Plus, all of these can be remotely operated by just one or two people. When your video production staff is 100% volunteers, minimizing personnel needs is critical. Please contact us at email@example.com
a robust and reliable camera stream. Both offer the ability to “#bond” several different internet connections to maximize bandwidth and ensure reliability if one network is overworked or goes down altogether. With these connected to your cameras, you can place cameras anywhere in your venue and send the image straight to social media or other #CDNs. If you have questions about Live U Solo, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaking of switchers, producing a live, multi-camera sports broadcast hasn’t been affordable for small organizations until the last few years. Now, there are multiple options that will allow them to look professional online. The #Wirecast Gear (Figure 5) from Telestream is an excellent choice. Its entry-level model, priced at under $5,000, comes with its Wirecast Pro production software, four HDMI inputs, and enough storage for about 5 hours of HD footage. Upgraded systems offer SDI inputs, larger drives for more storage, and configurable I/O ports for flexibility.
NewTek also offers affordable switching solutions in its #TriCaster line. The TriCaster Mini Advanced systems are available in HDMI and SDI models for well under $10,000, and they feature a built-in monitor and native NDI integration. We’ll look more at what NDI is and what benefits it offers in the next section. If you have questions about Wirecast Gear and Tricaster TC1, please contact us at email@example.com.
LARGER TEAMS AND COLLEGIATE SPORTS
Adult amateur leagues, pro-am leagues, and collegiate teams can afford to invest more in a quality video production system that will present their games to audiences at a level of quality that they expect. Collegiate teams may have the luxury of a centralized, permanent studio where they can produce all of their home games from one place. This is the case at the University of Tennessee. Most of the sports arenas on the UT campus (baseball, volleyball, basketball, softball, and soccer) are linked to the school’s main studio. From there, they can choose any camera source available to them and integrate it into their production.
According to director Tom Githens, the most important aspect they consider when purchasing new equipment is efficiency. How does it help production? Setups like this can really benefit from NewTek’s NDI technology. NDI stands for Network Device Interface. It’s an IP-based protocol for video devices that allows any device on a network to be discoverable and connected without miles of cabling. The beauty of this solution is that it allows the use of either a pre-existing or dedicated IP network. If you want to add a camera in a stadium across campus, just plug it into the network, find it by IP address, and easily add it as a source in your production.
The TriCaster TC1 (Figure 6) is a great solution for large-scale productions like this. This 4K-capable switcher can handle anything you can throw at it. Of course, it features NewTek’s own NDI tech. It can also handle 20 camera inputs, PTZ camera control, and dual-platform simultaneous streaming. Priced under $20,000, it also includes a hardware control panel for intuitive production, keying, and switching.
To complement the TC1, you’ll want to invest in NDI products like NewTek Connect Spark NDI|HX converters. These converters allow you to use the cameras of your choice (HDMI or SDI) and turn them into NDI sources, saving on cabling needs and adding a new level of ease and connectivity to your setup. BirdDog offers similar NDI converters including the BirdDog Studio, which converts from HDMI or SDI and includes Tally light, Comms, decode, and Power over Ethernet (PoE).
Of course, if you’re all in with #NDI, you can purchase NDI cameras and leave the converters out of the picture. Since NDI is open-source technology, numerous manufacturers have integrated it into their products. You can buy NDI-ready cameras from Panasonic, PTZOptics, BirdDog, NewTek, and a host of other companies. Putting all of these NDI components together in your production system gives you the flexibility to stream live games at home or on the road without compromising quality.
Whether you consider playing video games “real sports” or not, there’s no denying the fact that esports have become a phenomenon. Statista (go2sm.com/statista) has a few things to say about just how immense this market is and how much bigger it is getting. The estimated revenue of esports in 2019 is 1.1 billion and will likely be 1.8 billion in 2022. The audience size is about 454 million.
Since less than 500,000 people are viewing esports events on television when they air, the audience is obviously mostly online. This makes sense since video games are more and more an online activity. The bottom line here is obvious. If you want to capture the esports audience, start producing high-quality live streams. A secondary takeaway is if you want to invest in a niche of video production with an upward trajectory, esports is where it’s at.
Producing esports live streams is not altogether different from other sports production, but there are a few unique challenges. One is the speed of play. Probably one of the fastest-paced traditional sports to watch is ice hockey. You’ll notice that the camera angle used the most is a high, wide shot from center ice. This keeps the viewers from getting whiplash trying to follow the tiny puck back and forth.
Even hockey can’t hold a candle to the speed of play found in your average esports tournament. I tuned into a broadcast of the Overwatch championship last year and was completely overwhelmed by how fast things happened. The color commentators were gasping for breath trying to keep up with what was happening on screen, and the cameras switched between screen captures of the action, audience reaction shots, and player close-ups at an impressive clip.
#Esports production can require quite a few cameras, since audiences will want to see nice closeups of their favorite players and each team can have multiple players. In addition to many cameras, there’s also the need for quality screen captures. Each player has a unique POV that could be the most interesting “angle” at any given time. This means you need to have a video feed from each PC. Integrating this into a broadcast feed with cameras can be difficult. Players are often not using standard resolutions like 1920x1080. In order to provide a usable feed from these computers, the signal may need to be scaled, or the frame rate may need to be adjusted. In other words, you can’t just pull an HDMI signal straight from the computer to your switcher. What goes in between will make or break your broadcast.
Solutions are available from Epiphan and #Matrox. The Epiphan #Pearl-2 (Figure 7) can stream six HD sources at 30 fps and is an all-in-one streaming/switching solution. It supports resolutions all the way up to 4K, and it can stream to popular online platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook or any custom CDN.
The Matrox Monarch LCS (Figure 8) doesn’t have the switching capabilities of the Pearl, but it does have some tricks up its sleeve. The LCS can take two HDMI sources or one HDMI and one SDI source simultaneously. You can easily switch between them with on-device hardware buttons or through its browser-based command center. It also offers built-in picture-in-picture or side-by-side modes. Side-by-side allows you to display your two sources in either a 50/50 split or a 70/30 split. For example, you could show the player’s screen in the 70% and a closeup of the player in the 30%. If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sports video is one of the most “live” things in broadcast, and fans practically demand to see games live—or not at all. Whether you’re on a tiny budget or have thousands to invest in your video system, today’s live-streaming solutions will meet your needs in ways not possible just a few years ago.
Written by Paul Schmutzler