High school sports are set to resume in Central Virginia in less than two months, but there’s still plenty of uncertainty surrounding their return, including the role of spectators at games.
Area athletic directors have spent the past two months brainstorming to come up with ideas to give their communities an opportunity to support their programs with an online option. Fluvanna County, William Monroe and Orange County high schools and Blue Ridge School are among the 126 schools in Virginia that will livestream athletic contests through the National Federation of State High School Associations’ online network.
“We installed the system during the early summer,” Orange County athletic director Michael Neeley said. “We haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but we are excited about the opportunity for Hornet fans to watch our competitions remotely this year. It will be especially important if we are required to limit our venue capacity for the upcoming season. At the moment, we aren’t sure what those numbers may be, come December and beyond.”
The system includes an automated sports production camera called a Pixellot that automatically tracks the action and does not require a camera operator. There are no play-by-play commentators, but the system is synced with the scoreboards at the event to display the game clock and scoreboard at the bottom of the screen to keep fans informed.
As part of the program, athletic directors upload schedules of games broadcast and start times into the system and once calibrated, broadcasting will automatically begin at certain times before the game. Once games are completed, they are saved on the NFHS website )and can be watched at a later time or date.
The livestreaming service is subscription based and requires a fee to view. According to the NFHS website, they offer a monthly pass for $10.99 and a yearly pass for $69.99. Schools receive 10% of the revenue generated by the subscription fees.
William Monroe was the first school locally to utilize the technology. Athletic director Brian Collier said cameras were installed at the football stadium and inside their gym and were used last season for volleyball, basketball and football.
“I don’t remember the number of games,” Collier said. “I think it was used for all of the home games. Plus, we did one of our Medford League games too. We will do all home basketball and volleyball games this year. We also plan to do football and soccer as well in the stadium.”
Fluvanna County athletic director Scott Morris said this will mark the second year his program’s games will be livestreamed.
“We started this to hopefully give family members who are not local the chance to see their child or grandchild play,” Morris said. “I think it could be very beneficial to those who either can’t buy a ticket due to limitations or those who just don’t feel comfortable.”
Morris said all games on the turf field and in the school’s main gym will be broadcast.
Financially, the video service could also be beneficial to the schools. Goochland High School had two cameras installed this week at a cost of $7,000.
“The cost was very minimal for us to get it going,” Morris said. “We have not made any money off of this as of yet, but hope to be able to get sponsorships for such in the long run.”
At Orange County, systems were installed at Porterfield Park and inside the Hornet Sports Center, allowing the school to broadcast football, basketball, volleyball and perhaps wrestling. Blue Ridge had cameras installed Thursday in the school’s gymnasium in hopes to broadcast basketball games for the 2020-21 season.
Charlottesville High School athletic director Rodney Redd said they are in the process of exploring this option for indoor events. Other Jefferson District schools could also follow suit.
In terms of spectators at live events, there are still plenty of questions regarding capacity limits for games. As of right now, the VHSL is still abiding by Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order of 50% capacity, or a maximum of 250 people, for indoor events.
The VHSL is preparing to release its mitigation guidelines for return to play in the coming weeks, which should give its member schools specific expectations on a variety of topics, including spectators at games.