Live at home: Broadcasting high school sports in a pandemic

  • The FCAT crew before broadcasting a Greenfield hockey game against Amherst on Friday. From left to right: Meghan Self, Lou Bordeaux, Alec Eckel, Kevin Murphy, Josh Lavigne. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer

Published: 2/26/2021 7:39:03 PM

Modified: 2/26/2021 7:39:02 PM

High school athletes throughout Western Mass. have had to adapt to different protocols in order to play games this winter. Those close to them have also had to change the way they watch them compete. 

Families, friends and members of the community haven’t been able to pack into gyms in the “Franklin County Bubble” this season, as fans were not allowed at basketball games during the shortened winter slate.

Instead, those interested in watching have found a different way to view the game — streaming. No longer do fans have to fight for their favorite seat, wait in line to get in and sit in a crowded bleacher. Thanks to many people working hard behind the scenes, they’ve been able to enjoy the game from the comforts of their couches and favorite chairs at home. 

“It’s nice to be able to help out in this situation,” Frontier Community Access Television (FCAT) executive director Chris Collins said. “If not, people wouldn’t be able to watch their kids. We know how important it is for parents to see their kids play — especially for the seniors. We’ve shown we can rise to the occasion. We’re a resource so we’re here to help out.” 

Each individual school has come up with a different way to stream games this year for fans and families alike. All Frontier and Greenfield hockey home games have been streamed live through FCAT on YouTube, collaborating with Greenfield Community Television (GCTV) to cover games. GCTV has live-streamed 14 basketball games this season on its own. 

Athol-Orange Community Television (AOTV) has shown all Athol and Mahar basketball games live on their site through YouTube. Other schools have gotten creative as well, with Pioneer streaming games on Facebook using color commentary, Mohawk Trail and Turners Falls showing games live on Vimeo and Franklin Tech showing games live on YouTube as well. 

“We had interest in it and in coordination with our communications director, we were able to establish the live stream through our Vimeo account,” Mohawk Trail athletic director Greg Vouros said. “We had to have someone film it and have been able to successfully stream the games.”

At AOTV, much of that work was collaborating with the two area schools to figure out what equipment was needed to get the job done. 

The second step was learning the technology and figuring out how to get the schools to navigate the feed live. With two different schools to focus on, and games going on at the same time, the channel decided to stream all the games live on YouTube, with the link to each game appearing on the home page of its website to make it as easily accessible as possible. 

The games are later shown on the physical TV channel, and links to previous games are still available on the website for people to watch.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” AOTV executive director Carol Courville said. “It’s also a lot more work. Josh Gabrenas in Athol and Keith Bevan at Mahar, they’re running the cameras, getting everything ready to go. They’re the ones who need the praise. They’ve done all the links, figured out all the streaming and labeling and all that. They made it easy to work with them and get the product out there for everyone to see.” 

This is the first season FCAT has broadcasted games live. In years’ past, the organization has uploaded video to YouTube and its website after games. 

Even though the games weren’t live in the past, it took a few new pieces of technology and a couple small tweaks to allow them to go live, something Collins said came together seamlessly. 

FCAT had to buy a couple new pieces of equipment to switch between the two cameras they use during games, while also obtaining equipment to make sure they have access to the internet in order to bring games live and uninterrupted. 

“It’s exciting for us because it gives us a chance to showcase what we can do,” Collins said. “My guys are talented, they’re a great crew that takes this seriously. Public access takes a bad rep for not having high standards but the access stations in our area have high standards and approach it seriously. It’s good for us to show we can be a resource and that we can do this for all sports.” 

Much of community television consists of small, hard working staffs. That’s no different in this area. At FCAT, it takes a five-person crew to broadcast the games live, with two announcers and a crew of three to produce the game. 

Collins gives much of the credit to youth outreach coordinator Kevin Murphy, who’s found ways to keep improving the product. 

“I’m proud of the work Kevin has done,” Collins said. “Every year, we add a new technical wrinkle. He’s always finding a way to make the product better, whether it’s different graphics or making highlight videos of the game we show on our website.” 

For local radio like Bear Country 95.3 FM in Greenfield, broadcasting games this winter hasn’t been much different, though calling games in an empty gymnasium has been an adjustment for long-time announcers. 

“They can hear everything you’re saying,” Bear Country broadcaster Bobby Campbell said. “Before, nobody could really hear you, now you’re in a situation where you want to press a call from the refs and the refs are going to hear it. The hardest thing was that everybody was trying to be respectful for the kids shooting free throws. You could hear a pin drop so it was tough doing the call during those.”

One big positive to come out of this school year has been community access channels’ ability to share videos and broadcast with each other.

“We’re all about serving the community,” Collins said. “This has brought all the access stations closer together. Doing it this way and sharing content, it brings everyone together and maximizes our resources.” 

While live streaming games just started in Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region this season, it’s something that might be here to stay.

“As long as the volunteer basis is still there, there’s no reason it can’t continue,” Courville said. “It’ll be a lot easier if the students are back and we can get student volunteers to film the games.” 

With so much of our everyday life changed due to the pandemic, adding livestreamed sporting events to the area’s repertoire moving forward should provide different avenues for fans unable to attend key games in person.

“I’d like to be able to continue doing it once crowds are back,” Collins said. “It’ll be up to individual athletic directors and programs, but we’re ready to do it and serve our viewers.” 

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