Bummed Boosters: ‘No Rah-Rah’
School Administrator, May 2020
Scenario: The high school’s student newspaper staff wants to begin livestreaming home varsity football and basketball games via Facebook so people can watch from any location at no charge. Several school board members, long active in the athletic boosters, object, contend the remote viewing will depress needed revenue from admission and food/beverage sales at home games. The athletic director takes no stance, leaving the decision to the superintendent and the board.
It is time that the school board enter the 21st century! Whether or not they like it, digital access/social media for schools is here to stay and on-demand streaming is expected by many of their patrons. If they are concerned about physical attendance and food/beverage revenues going down at these events, they certainly could increase the athletics budget.
Greater access could become a marketing tool for the school district and, in the long run, create increased revenues and support for the district. Live streaming has the potential to broaden viewership.
The athletic director needs to get onboard and encourage this opportunity and get the superintendent and school board to see the benefits of social media access for viewers. It is an excellent way to promote the many activities and programs the district offers students not just in these two sports but overall. There could be short clips during game breaks to show snippets or interviews with students, parents, staff or even board members about the good things happening in the district. Those watching might be inspired to make a donation to the Booster Club and be more aware of what the district does for students when the next bond/millage election comes around.
This is a perfect scenario for the superintendent and athletic director to help the board see “the glass as half full and not as half empty.”
“Show me the money!”
As with the case of most new ventures, fear of the unknown is the overriding factor preventing meaningful change. The free livestreaming has great potential for enhancing school spirit and expanding the fan base of the teams. It also is a great opportunity for student entrepreneurs to learn from this startup livestreaming initiative. These benefits likely far outweigh any lost revenues and ought to result in more fans actually attending games as school spirit and interest grow.
However, before making a decision, the superintendent should get trend data from the past three years on booster revenues from game admissions and food sales and present that to the students to let them address this concern with the boosters. Following that session, the superintendent should recommend piloting the livestreaming for a year and collecting admissions and concessions revenue data to compare to the previous three years. At that time, the final decision should be made to continue livestreaming, to cease it or to pilot it for a second year.
Livestreaming games could be a win-win for the student newspaper, the athletics program and its boosters and the community at large. Just as the broadcasting of professional sports enables people to follow their favorite teams and adds to the excitement of attending games, livestreaming could have a similar impact on the school community. It would enable a broader audience to watch the game — from the extended families, friends and neighbors of the athletes to alumni who still feel connected to their alma mater and their sport as well as to interested community members who might be out of town or otherwise not able to see a game live.
Making school news and events more accessible to all can heighten interest in the livestreamed sports as well as in the band, cheer team, dance team and other participatory components of these events.
The superintendent could explore ways to allay boosters’ concerns over potential revenue losses. For example, in addition to broadcasting the game, the programming could promote spirit wear, booster membership and attendance at sporting and school events. It could feature video segments on the role of the boosters and how their support is making a difference for the athletes and the school as a whole. It might also offer personal interest pieces on coaches, students, volunteers and involved parents.
If the board approves commercial advertising by local retailers and businesses for these programs, livestreaming may represent another revenue source for athletics and student activities. If the livestreaming of football and basketball proves successful, it could be extended to other sports and other student activities. With the right approach, livestreaming could both expand support for school activities and enhance school spirit within the broader community.
So long as no concerns are raised about digital streaming of school events, including streaming student images from both the game and the stands, the newspaper staff should be allowed to pilot the initiative for the first four or five games of the season. This will allow sufficient data collection for all stakeholders to weigh in in an informed way about whether to continue or terminate the pilot program for the remainder of the season.
Relevant questions include:
» How many people are watching the livestreamed games, and is this number rising, falling, or staying static over the trial period?
» Are digital viewers leaving feedback in the form of comments, likes/dislikes, or other forms of engagement with the platform, and if so, what is the overall tenor of their feedback? Is there a digital community being built up around the teams or the games?
» Is in-person attendance rising, falling, or staying static over the trial period? Although the school board members are concerned that remote viewing will necessarily depress revenue, it is possible that by building a wider viewership, Facebook Live streaming could actually increase in-person attendance over time!
»What is the feedback from players and coaches at the end of the trial period? Do they express pleasure at their expanded reach (including, potentially, expanded opportunity for some players to be scouted by college coaches), or frustration at diminished energy in the stadium?
»If the data are mixed, might a compromise be reached: for example, streaming away games but not home games?
All of these questions are predicated on a significant assumption, however, which is that digital livestreaming of students is itself inherently unproblematic. That strikes me as a problematic assumption and one that the superintendent, school board and legal counsel will want to talk through carefully over time. It is important to resolve this question before making any decision one way or the other about rolling out the pilot livestreaming of football and basketball games.
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