The Early Days.
How do you remember watching sports as a child? Was it on a leather La-Z-Boy with a large flat screen T.V. and full 5.1 surround sound? A crisp, clean picture with no fuzz and enough audio detail to pick up players swearing on the field? Laughably, no. Watching sports games as a kid back in the early days meant laying on the carpet and watching a tube powered cabinet T.V. with enough static electricity on the screen to restart your heart.
Even then, we felt as though that scratchy screen was like being on the field ourselves. Seeing Bo Jackson fire a cannon from the Green Monster all the way to home plate had everyone jumping around the living room. There’s something about watching a game that unites us on an emotional level. The memories tied to cheering with family during those childhood game 7 championships are truly burned into our minds. You can almost smell the second-hand smoke coming from the kitchen as Mom put together snacks for a living room full of rowdy sports fans.
As nostalgic as that old experience was, those games lacked in many ways. Features that we take for granted today. Things like instant stats for every player on the field, CGI animated intros, superimposed pitching squares, or even just the fact that we can PVR games to watch later are all innovative ways technology has helped improve our sports viewing experience.
Technology has allowed for great advancements in how sports are broadcasted and viewed by billions around the world. In youth sports, especially, there has been a massive push to get more games televised and in the homes of more spectators. The youth sports broadcasting sector is seeing a surge in innovation as the demand for high-quality broadcasts is growing every season. Currently, the youth sports video streaming market is valued at an impressive $2.2Billion and is projected to rise to $5.6Billion by 2024! When you have that much cash flowing into a sector that quickly you tend to draw the attention of big players and innovative companies looking for a piece of the pie.
Who Has A Stream?
Easily one of the largest advancements to media in recent memory is the advent of streaming services and OTT (Over The Top) content providers. In their most basic form, these are content arenas where viewers can watch endless hours worth of videos from pre-season scrims to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Top-level professional teams like Manchester City are beginning to tap into this demand by offering full access streams to all of their games, giving their fans the content they’re screaming for.
The dramatic impact streaming has had on how sports are consumed is nothing short of a revolution. For example, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games had roughly 400 Million individual streamers watch the games. In four short years, that number ballooned to an impressive 1.2 Billion individual streamers for the 2012 London Olympic games.
The same demand for content is there for youth sports, just on a smaller scale. As technology makes streaming more accessible and thus more viable for youth sports organizations to pursue, we can see a huge upswing in streams becoming available in the near future. Unfortunately at the present time, the only way for families to watch their children’s games is if they’re at the venue itself. This is great as Mom & Dad are normally at the field, but when extended family live two states away it can be frustrating for them to see the game via Dad’s blurry video from the sidelines.
One company that is taking the lead on youth sports video streaming is Pixellot, a video hardware producer who is installing approximately 100 new systems every week in venues and arenas across the United States. These systems are completely automated and driven by Artificial Intelligence allowing for effortless playback and interactivity by spectators, coaches, and players alike. This technology is helping to put youth sports into the homes of fans all over the nation, bringing fans and teams closer together than ever before.
Another is BoxCast, a versatile streaming solution for youth sports organizations. They gather video content from multiple sources that you define (venue cameras, cell phones, etc) and then send it to their cloud to be optimized for your viewers. Their technology is robust and simple, allowing for quick, high-quality content to be available for your fans.
With the explosion of social media on all fronts, the creation of fan-made content is on the rise. More and more channels are popping up weekly, specializing in local youth sports making it easier for fans to interact with their favorite teams. Not only that but the teams themselves are curating their own branded channels online where they showcase their latest games, highlight-worthy plays, promotional materials, and every championship winning celebration in-between.
Platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter have allowed fans to create unique content and share it with the entire world right from their phones. There is a wonderful ecosystem of fan-made content right on the surface of social media and according to Nielsen, 92% of customers trust authentic user-generated content more than the traditional advertising they see.
Why is that? It’s because we trust ourselves more than we trust a corporation pushing their messaging. The next time you’re about to leave for a trip, search the venue/location on Instagram or YouTube and see what other travelers are posting about their experience for a more diverse picture. You’ll see other like minded customers enjoying the same service or product without the noise of curated content by the brand.
User-generated content (UGC) has influenced the way we consume youth sports. It has introduced a whole new arena for trusted content to be produced and viewed in. It’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon, encourage your spectators to post their media from your games onto their channels (using a favored hashtag) to begin building that ecosystem of UGC. This will also greatly expand your social media reach and help broaden your audience. While you’re at it, look at including a section on your web site that is devoted to UGC. It will be a great home for content you don’t need to produce and hey, everyone wants to see their Tweet showcased on their favorite team’s page 😉
As Clear As Crystal.
Back to that scratchy, staticy T.V. set in our parent’s living room with 11 channels. Remember how strained your eyes would get trying to make out the scores and player’s faces? It’s no wonder our mothers told us not to sit so close (“But mom! I can’t see the names on the back of their jerseys”). The devices we use to view our content has changed in such a way that it’s making a big impact on our youth sports experience.
Screens have come a LONG way since then, to put it in perspective – the monitor you’re reading this article on has 5 times the resolution that the Jumbotron had in 1992, which might not be saying much as it was running at only 240p. Now that most screens are 1080p and above, our viewing experience has been so greatly improved that we no longer struggle with the issues associated with low-resolution rates.
The impact better screens have on youth sports broadcasting is quite substantial. This falls in line with our previous topic of UGC as most organizations do not have professional videographers at their events producing commercial-grade content. Having easy access to clean and clear video not only allows you to publish great looking content but also gives you a superb training tool to use for coaching players on form and technique.
Coach’s Eye has taken this idea and made it into a fantastic application. Their coaching tools bring key improvements to players instantly by recording the player’s form and then analyzing it alongside professional data. This gives coaches an extra edge in their player training as they can use high-resolution video to critique form, ball angle, velocity, and much more.
The Goal Seen Around The World.
Another massive change we’ve experienced in youth sports broadcasting, and broadcasting in general, is the globalization of broadcasts. Thirty years ago there would be a few large sporting events a year that would garner international viewership, albeit nothing close to the global reach of today’s standards. Because of that vacuum, sports fans would be limited to consume games from their local country or region, leaving fan bases defined by their location.
A massive shift happened during the late 80s/early 90s where broadcasting was broadened past the borders of neighboring countries, bringing with it the fandom of celebrated teams. For example, the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games could be viewed in 111 countries, fairly confined by today’s standards. Fast forward twenty years for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and you would have been able to view them from anywhere in the world.
This affects youth sports broadcasting in a major way. No longer are the team’s fandom strangled by limited access to content. The fans that have moved away from their hometown can still be just as much a part of the game as the parents on the sidelines. This alone brings people closer together and increases the engagement they have at events and tournaments.
Where To Now?
The future of youth sports broadcasting truly lies in the hands of technology. We’ve seen dramatic changes over the course of the last forty years with major disruptions on how we consume content at a youth sports level. To say we have a roadmap of where we’ll be in ten years would be a shot in the dark but it would definitely include Augmented & Virtual Reality. Companies like Opta are bringing professional AR/VR graphics to broadcasting at an amazing pace and will no doubt enter the youth sports market in the coming years.
Camera quality will continue to become more and more powerful as technology advances while also becoming more cost-effective, which means your local venues might have digital displays sooner than you think. Also on the horizon will be greater broadcasting reach as computing becomes more powerful, providing clearer streams and higher definition.
As wonderful as these advancements are let’s not forget about those early days spent around friends and family cheering on our local heroes. Without the passion for amateur sports, these improvements fall on blind eyes. Sports bring us together, and broadcasting brings that togetherness into the comfort of our homes. Just this time we have the comfy La-Z-Boy’s, large flat screen T.V., and surround sound speaker system to hear the coach tear a strip off the ref.