High School Sports: Conquering the Final Frontier of Sports Broadcasting

high school sports production playon sports

Americans attend more than three times the number of high school sporting events as college and pro combined

Count the DVR amongst the most impactful technologies of the last decade plus.

Maybe it’s not as sexy as the smartphone or cloud computing, but it has changed the viewing patterns of over 50 million people. I’d say that’s impact.

Those viewers, armed with the power of record and fast-forward, more often than not skip commercials, the bread and butter of TV revenue streams.

Live sports on the other hand, could be the last space for advertisers to grab a slice of your brainwaves, since viewers still predominantly watch sports as they happen. Big businesses still pay top dollar to place their ads in live sports events where feel they are more likely to be seen and absorbed.

Networks know this, and that is why they are willing to pay billions to acquire multi-year broadcast rights agreements for individual sports teams, conferences and leagues.

Which begs the question – if broadcast sports are such a huge money maker, why hasn’t anyone successfully tackled high school sports yet?

The numbers are staggering:

  • Americans attend more than three times the number of high school sporting events as college and pro combined
  • 75% of U.S. teens play some form of high school sports
  • 42% of U.S. teens attend at least one high school sports event per week

Well, someone is, but they are taking a different approach that bypasses the DVR completely.

PlayOn! Sports in conjunction with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has formed an all-digital network that will stream over 30,000 high school sports events each school year on their subscription platform, including over 15,000 hours of live or same day event coverage.

This presents not only a great viewing experience for high school sports fans, but a huge opportunity for sports jobs in broadcast media, “We are willing to work with and train what would be considered a younger, less experienced work force who really embraces the new production technology,” says Sandy Malcolm, PlayOn! Sports Chief Content Officer. “We spend a lot of time on training in order to ensure that the quality is there.”

Malcolm went on to explain in greater detail how PlayOn! Sports plans to conquer what might be the final and largest frontier of sports broadcasting, and how they go about staffing the enormous amount of events they cover across the nation:

PlayOn! and the NFHS recently agreed to a partnership to launch an all-digital network devoted to coverage of high school athletic content  – is this a game-changing moment? 

Malcolm: Yes, we feel this is most definitely a game changer.

high school sports NFHS Network

The NFHS all-digital network will stream over 30,000 high school sports events per year in conjunction with PlayOn! Sports

Partnering directly with the NFHS member state high school associations, where each state has a stake in our success and has a say in how we move forward, is an important next step for us. We were already working with state high school associations in more than 25 states by acquiring the rights to their playoff and championships events. We are now up to nearly 30 states through the NFHS network digital network which will be a subscription based service available at NFHSNetwork.com.

More states are expected later this year and next. It is a way to build a truly national platform while also honoring the local communities that make high school sports so unique.

This all-digital network is what our CEO, David Rudolph, calls the network for the next 40 years. It’s being designed for the next generation of consumers who are driving the consumption in a multi-screen environment across all types of devices.

These digital natives will set the stage for the success of the NFHS Network.

PlayOn! Sports currently produces 5,000 high school sports events annually – and I imagine that will grow with your NFHS deal – how in the world are you able to staff all of those productions? 

Malcolm: We have a vast network of freelancers across the country in addition to our own staff now strategically based in every region of the country.

Atlanta is our headquarters but we have production personnel stationed is strategic locations from Portland to Wisconsin to Pittsburgh to Connecticut.

We keep production costs low by leveraging the latest in broadcast technology with small, nimble crews who are doing low-cost yet high quality productions that are focused on the digital space rather than big TV productions.

We have a small fleet of Tricaster based production vans as well as nearly 100 single camera streaming kits that we can easily move across all our participating states.

The schools themselves play a role, producing another 15,000 events per year, how hard is it to maintain quality standards with so many various production teams that you may or may not have any control over?

Malcolm: Our School Broadcast program is a vital part of our business and it is expanding rapidly. We currently have over 600 schools across the country that are part of our program.

high school sports school broadcasting program

As part of the PlayOn! Sports school broadcasting program, students can gain exposure to digital sports productions

We provide the schools with the software for streaming that includes the ability to add basic graphics to their own productions through our proprietary software application. We also provide a web portal for each school where they can post the content that they produce.

It is a terrific opportunity for students to gain valuable experience both in front of and behind the camera. These school broadcast program students then create a great pipeline for us of trained, experienced personnel once they graduate. We also have used some of our more advanced schools to produce a select number of playoffs games for us in their state. That creates a win for all of us.

In addition to sporting events, schools produce everything from morning announcements, to plays to other school functions including graduations. Many of these schools have very sophisticated multi-camera productions with state of the art equipment.

But the great thing is that those that do not can still do a very high quality production with a single camera and a laptop.

What about play-by-play and analysts? It’s pretty hard to make your mark when you are just getting started, do you use local talent for the productions? 

Malcolm: We definitely look for local talent particularly for play-by-play and color analysts.

One of the essential elements for our productions across all states is that they have an authentic voice that serves the local schools and communities. Dropping in “national” announcers for a local high school sporting event just doesn’t feel authentic and the audience will sense that.

It is very important that our announcers not only know the local teams and players but the histories of these programs as well. That’s why we try very hard to incorporate local talent into our broadcast. In some cases they may not be the most experienced, but we can work with them on the nuts and bolts of broadcasting. It is much harder to teach them the history of the teams, its fans and players. That part you really can’t teach.

You ideally want someone who is familiar with the high school experience in that state or region and is part of the community.

You’ve worked in traditional studio productions and now in a digital world – are they much different? 

Malcolm: The world of production is changing rapidly in terms of what you can do for the price point. Advances in production equipment and streaming technology have made it possible to produce a high quality live streamed event at a much lower price point. It is important that you adapt and take advantage of those changes if you want to survive and flourish.

high school sports digital network

PlayON! Sports and the NFHS believe their all-digital high school sports network is the platform for the next 40 years

We do a range of productions from single camera, with a basic on-screen graphics package and announcer set-up done directly into a laptop; to Tricaster level multi-camera productions with a low cost graphics solution; all the way up through traditional big TV truck productions for some of our TV level championships.

But more and more we are finding the big traditional TV truck is not practical or necessary for what we do. We are a digital company first and foremost and that’s our priority. We can produce a range of quality content without the big price tag.

Colleges are quickly becoming another great source of production personnel. Almost every college these days has some type of production department that produces many of their own sporting events.  We have had good success finding production resources from that area as well.

Why is PlayOn! Sports able to make the high school sports business model work where others have failed to succeed or even try? 

Malcolm: Our focus is really on the 99 percent rather than the one percent as we like to say. There are media companies out there who are interested in televising or streaming the big football and basketball championships in certain states. But we feel it is important to cover all sports. The lacrosse, softball or swimming championships are as important to us as the football championship.

What helps make it work is the sheer scale we offer with more than 5,000 events produced annually through our own production resources and another 15,000 to 20,000 events through our member schools in our school broadcast program. That is why the partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations is so important.

Focusing on the digital side and having a model that is a dual revenue stream between subscription and sponsorships, we feel is the right way to go.

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

And if you want to know where our privacy policy is before you submit your comments below, it's right here.


  1. I performed play-by-play eight seasons for the Graceville HS varsity football games on the local non- profit college, BCF. I would be interested in speaking with someone concerning possible opportunities on this form of media.
    Thank you.

    • Bob – thanks for writing in and enjoying the article. We are in the midst of including a whole host of opportunities from PlayOn and the NFHSNetwork so I will make sure to send you details as I get them. Since they just officially launched the new NFHSNetwork a few weeks back they are in the weeds a bit right now. My impression from talking with Sandy Malcolm, their chief content officer, you are exactly the type of person they would want to perform play-by-play! Keep in touch, I’ll help however I can – Brian

    • Hi Bob:
      What area are you in? I own SFMSports.Net, a high school and college broadcast network in MD. Send me an email, steve.clendenin@sfmsports.net.

  2. I’ve been video streaming high school sports for the past two years in the Shelton/Mason County, Washington area focusing on three schools. I’m a one-man operation, one camera, small mixer. I’ve had my ups and downs but mostly positive. I would really like to work with or partner with Play On! Sports. I’m just what they describe in the article. I’ve been wanting to get the schools more involved but they seem to be dragging their feet. Any help?

    • Dedrick – first off congratulations for having the determination to pursue your dreams. It”s not easy when you are lugging equipment around, doing solo productions, just hoping it will turn into something. Nice work. Let me talk to some of my contacts at PlayOn and the NFHS and see if I can connect them with you. Keep up the good work – Brian

  3. I am similar to Dedrick Allan, I’ve been doing high school videos for the past 4 years and recently built a website dedicated to Live Streaming and On-Demand sports videos. I mostly work solo but have 6 – 7 good camera guys I contract work to. I have the ability to run 6 cameras, Play-by-Play announcers, and graphics on a switcher. I try and stay “lightweight” so my cost isn’t passed to the customer. My dream is to find commercial advertisers that would allow me to offer this service free to high schools. Most schools just can’t afford to invest in something like this. I would seriously love an opportunity to connect with this network.

    Side note, I also have the ability for Pay-per-viewing, both On-Demand and Live Streaming. In addition to this I have 2 Canon 5D Mark II DSLR’s that I use for filming higher end promos, interviews, and cinematically stunning b-roll footage.

    Thank you for writing about this cool new movement in the sports world!!

    Phil – Stream It Sports – Denver, CO

    • Phil – thanks for writing in you have a great set-up! As someone who just relocated to the Denver area from Seattle let me say you have a beautiful state. It doesn’t sound like your background is in sales, but I really think you have an opportunity to sell advertising or sponsorships for your broadcasts. Here’s an idea, contact local colleges or universities, find out what their internship guidelines are and then see if you can get a sports management student to intern, you can get them to do some sales for you while you teach them production. Or reach out to ROOT sports and invite one of their local sales guys out to lunch – they might be able to give you a few tips. No offense, but I don’t think they’d view you as competition, so they might share some insight. Hope this helps – Brian

  4. Hell sir;
    I loved the article. I too would like to get involved with this program. I just graduated August 9th with my B.S. in communications (sports broadcasting) and have done play by play and color for our college sports channel which is fully student run. I have done football, men and women’s basketball, volleyball and soccer. I have been camera operator as well as instant replay. If you could pass the word on that I would love to do this here in Tennessee. I am 45 mins north of Nashville in the Fort Campbell, KY area.

    Thank You

    • Thomas, glad you liked the article – it is a great network doing some incredible things. I’ll pass along your information, best of luck! – Brian

  5. John O'Dell says

    Hey Brian, I thoroughly enjoyed the article on PlayOnSports and the NFHS. I am a Navy Combat Camera veteran and I have worked with local newspapers and national magazines providing photos and stories on local games and players.

    I am currently providing stock footage for local television and voice over for highlights from high school sporting events.

    I am a current subscriber to NFHS and watch all the games that I can’t attend, via my laptop.

    I think this is definitely the wave of the future and would love to be a part of the network providing coverage to local communities in my area for those who just can’t attend every game.

    If you could send me information for contacting NFHS, I would be very grateful.

  6. Michael Adkins says

    Hey Brian,
    I am a 16 year old high school student out of Davenport, Iowa and my school is starting a Sports Production/Broadcast Department. We contacted a local electronics distributor (Electronic Communication Systems) to help us put a quote together so we could get a grant to pay for equipment. From all the research I have done on production switchers, mixers, cameras, etc..I am quite knowledgeable (or so I like to think) on the equipment, but not so much the process of doing a live production. I have read your posts about “A Day in the Life of a Sports Producer” and I find them very helpful. I also read the one I am currently commenting on. My only problem is that PlayOn! Sports and the NFHS are not in relation with my school. My school administrator in charge of the project stated that he doesn’t want outsider help, not that there is anything wrong with the organizations, he simply wants to make this a student operated project. We plan to make this project as professional as possible due to the fact that we will eventually make it a class. I myself may attend college for Sports Production so I can gain more knowledge and then return to continue the program. But for now my question to you is if there are any camps, training seminars, or maybe tours of some sort that we could attend to gain better knowledge on the career of Sports Production?

  7. Greg Dynabursky says

    I would definitely like more information on this possible employment opportunity. I am a sports announcer for a local high school in the L.A. area and have been doing so for many years. I’ve attempted to obtain employment with several professional franchises, leagues, and stations after receiving my B.A. degree several years ago, but have been unsuccessful and now currently work part-time for a local municipality. I conduct play-by-play broadcasts over the PA system for varsity football and act as public address announcer for boys and girls varsity basketball. I have performed at a few other sporting competitions as well as acted as MC/Host for fundraising events. I would appreciate any consideration and assistance in this matter and hope to hear from your corporation soon. Thanks in advance.

  8. Allen Gandy says


    I noticed these posts are rather old. Have things developed or have they stalled? Are there newer resources to tap or investigate? It seems like this is still deveoping.

    Thanks in advance.