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Editorial: National Streaming Agreements Mean Fans Will Have to Pay to Watch High School Sports

CLARION, Pa. – “There is no such thing as a free lunch” is one of those basic economic examples used in a microeconomics classroom to demonstrate that nothing in this world is truly free.

Yes, someone may pay monetarily for someone else’s meal, but their time is now no longer free. They have committed time to eat that meal which makes the meal no longer free.

I am sure everyone will wonder where the heck this article is going, but it will come full circle if given the chance to explain.

An organization by the name of NFHS Network is on the rise and is becoming an outlet to watch high school sports live if folks are unable to attend in person. Having access to watch these contests is truly a blessing, but there is also a price to pay.

NFHS contracts typically prohibit local online media outlets from streaming games at schools that have reached an agreement with the company.

Outlets like Explore/D9Sports.com, D9andD10Sports.com, Mega Rock and TribeLive High School Sports Network are examples of outlets in our region that have all live broadcasted games and contests in various sports to viewers for free. While it may not be free to workers who set up the equipment, search for sponsors, and spend a great amount of time preparing for the contest, it is certainly more personal than a nationally-run organization contacting local high school’s and asking them to pay for their service to broadcast games.

Some local school districts have also invested in some equipment and YouTube Live in order to broadcast all the contests possible at their school. While letting one of the local media companies or school districts broadcast may take some work, it is free to all users.

However, their competitor, the much larger and nationally recognized NFHS Network, does not just require the school district itself to pay for the video, but it also requires the school to pay for broadcasters if they choose to have them, in addition to possibly charging those interested to watch and listen to the broadcast.

At the time of this article, a monthly subscription to NFHS Network is $10.99 per month while a full-year membership can be purchased for $69.99. While it certainly is not a lot of money, the alternative of letting local media companies or the school district itself broadcast the game would seem to be a more cost-effective method for fans themselves.

Several Clarion County school districts like Clarion Area and North Clarion High have decided against signing with NFHS Network while two local districts, Clarion-Limestone and DuBois Central Catholic, have elected to ink deals with the company. A contract with NFHS Network usually ranges between $1,000.00 to $2,000.00, and this does not include announcers who must be paid separately.

Clarion Area School District Superintendent Joe Carrico shared a statement about his support for local media and not signing a deal with NFHS.

“There are a few local media companies who I believe do a great job at covering our area. I did not see a quantitative benefit of signing with NFHS over letting local media steam games.”

North Clarion Area High School Principal Ed Baumcratz shared some thoughts on why he elected to not sign a contract with NFHS and what the North Clarion School District has elected to do instead.

“Our district did not want to charge our fans to stream a live sporting event. The Hudl Focus camera we purchased gives our district the flexibility to continue to provide high-quality streaming of our events free of charge to our families. Throughout this process, I sat through a demonstration of the Pixellot through the NFHS Network. The reason we steered away from this company was that subscriptions would have to be paid in order to watch our events.”

The Clarion-Limestone Area School District declined to comment about their deal with NFHS Network but stated on its athletic website that NFHS will stream all athletic competitions including middle school games and contests. Certainly, Clarion-Limestone has its reasons for signing this deal, including an increase in the number of games broadcast, but it will limit the opportunity of other local media companies to stream games live on their social media and websites.

Another thing it will limit is North Clarion High and Clarion Area High School football fans to watch the Central Clarion Wildcats, a co-op between the three schools, for free when the game is taking place at Clarion-Limestone. Sure, not all games will be played at Clarion-Limestone and many will attend in person, but parents and fans from Clarion and North Clarion may scoff at the idea of having to pay $10.99 to watch just a game or two online.

One characteristic of the contract that can be signed with NFHS Network is it allows for the possibility for a school district itself to profit from the usage of the application. School districts will have the option to sell advertisements that can be added to the platforms broadcast, and schools get to keep 100 percent of the profits from the advertisements they sell. While certainly, this is enticing for a school district or an athletic department, many local businesses have already reached advertisement agreements with local media companies.

In a time where I would argue it is as important as ever to support local businesses, I will just say it is a shame that big media was even able to enter the high school sports scene in a bigger way.

Personally, I have nothing against NFHS, and I think their business model is excellent, but fans need to be aware that they will need to pay a subscription to watch these games live on their platform. If they watch ours or other local media outlets, they will be able to see the action for free. **

Local school districts also have the capability to purchase their own technology and stream games and many school districts, like North Clarion, have elected to do just that as a way to provide additional coverage to fans. NFHS Network truly entered the market at the right time and hats off to them for that, but this is yet another example of big media or big business starting to win even when there are ample resources that could be used as an alternative.

This piece is also not about saying the Clarion-Limestone and DuBois Central Catholic School Districts are in the wrong for signing for NFHS Network. Simply, this article is to inform what has happened in the high school sports landscape when it comes to streaming athletic events.

There will be more to come on this topic as fall sports season approaches.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At the time of this publication, Explore has not been given access to Clarion-Limestone’s contract with NFHS. A Right to Know Request has been filed with the school district.