A growing live-stream network could help fans see IHSA games if Illinois bars spectators

PEORIA — A pay-per-view streaming network might be the only cure available for high school sports fans if the Illinois Department of Public Health rules basketball and other 2020-21 IHSA winter sports can not be attended by spectators amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

That final ruling is expected on Wednesday. The state could decide no games can be played. It could approve game play, but with mitigations ranging from requiring players to wear masks, or games permitted but without spectators.

Illinois High School Association executive director Craig Anderson told the Journal Star last week that his organization will likely go forward with games even if the IDPH approves games but without spectators allowed to attend.

So how do you see a high school game under those circumstances?

"The Pixellot camera system," Anderson said. "We have over 200 member schools in the IHSA that have them installed now."

The National Federation of State High School Associations -- which has 19,500 member schools nationwide -- offers two streaming cameras to any school. Free.

They are automated, requiring no production team, and are tasked for indoors and outdoor sports, with a connection to the NFHS Network, a national live streaming service.

The free equipment program is a partnership with NFHS and PlayOn! Sports, and launched three years ago. It is installed in over 5,000 schools nationally, with a waiting list for more.

"We've been a charter member of NFHS, and we are very familiar with the Pixellot system," Anderson said. "We were one of the first states to communicate the system to our schools.

"Cameras are free, but you pay for installation. It's a wonderful feature to stream all levels of events."

Schools get the equipment free, without anyone needed for its operation. The schools sell subscriptions to the streaming service for $70. Those fees go back to the NFHS.

"The network reached profitability for the first time in 2019-20," Anderson said. "So they are starting to offer revenue shares back to the schools. They anticipate that revenue increasing as more cameras to more schools are added. The return that we are entitled to is not comparable to having spectators on hand. But it will help schools defray some expenses."

Mark Koski, CEO of the NFHS Network, in an August statement said schools will receive a larger amount of subscription revenue shares: "We recognize that the next several years will be challenging for our high schools and state associations. Many are facing budget cuts and reduced resources, and attendance at athletic and other school events may be restricted."

The NFHS network is also set up so schools, if they choose, can provide their own equipment and production and simply connect to the system.

Anderson said Morton High School does that. He says Pekin High School is set up with an indoor Pixellot camera system. The NFHS website, which you can find here -- https://www.nfhs.org/ -- shows streaming options for area schools like Notre Dame High School, Eureka, Dee-Mack, Washington, Metamora and more.

The streaming network can be found here:


"The waiting list is rather significant for these," Anderson said. "So if a school is just now deciding it wants it, my guess is you won't get it by the start of the season or even at any point in the season."

Since there would be no spectator revenue or homecourt advantage at stake during the pandemic, perhaps area schools with the Pixellot systems could create a streaming bubble of sorts. Teams that don't have the system could play games at schools that do have it. Their fans could see games that way.

"The program, overall, is a national opportunity for high schools to sign an agreement to get the equipment installed," Anderson said. "Then the schools build subscriptions for it. There's no question it's growing."

That’s all for Cleve In The Eve on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

Here’s your sports quote of the day:

"Technology is changing the world; it's changing our sport. It's changing the way people are following the NBA."

— NBA commissioner Adam Silver

Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.

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