Streaming Out of Samford

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.3, March 2005,

This season, fans of Samford University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams could see every tip-off and buzzer-beater on the teams’ home schedules, even if they couldn’t make the trip to Birmingham, Ala. All home games, as well as most of the school’s football, women’s soccer, volleyball, and baseball games, are available via the Internet on a pay-per-view basis. It adds up to one of the most extensive Webcast offerings in college sports.

The benefits of offering sporting events over the Web are manifold, according to Justin Firesheets, Director of Broadcast Operations at Samford. "Our coaches have found that one of the biggest benefits is in recruiting," he says. "Let’s say we’ve got a kid from Colorado who might want to play here, but he’s wavering because it’s 800 miles from home. This might help seal the deal for him because mom and dad know that they can still watch him play. And maybe having that expanded recruiting appeal helps push the program up to another level. We’ve seen this help bring kids in for several of our sports."

Another advantage is that prospects can be invited to check out a home event before they make a campus visit. "A player can see what our atmosphere is like, plus they see what we’re willing to do to give exposure and publicity to our teams," Firesheets says.

Viewers pay between $6 and $10 per event, and special rates are available through season passes. And while parents and friends of Samford athletes make up most of the audience, the athletic department reaches out to opposing teams’ fans as well. At the start of the season, opponents receive information to distribute in press releases and among players, and Firesheets says it’s especially popular with fans of teams from long distances away.

The Webcasts are not currently bringing in any straight advertising revenue, but advertising spots are being offered as a bonus to corporate sponsors. "We’ve noticed a lot of the companies want to be involved just because it’s something new and different," Firesheets says. "They know they’re not going to reach thousands of people, but they like being able to say they’re part of helping this new medium become mainstream. And our athletic department feels the same way—we’re really proud to be on the cutting edge of this new technology."

The behind-the-scenes work involved in Webcasting is minimal once the initial set-up is complete. There is typically only one camera, and play-by-play audio is provided by Firesheets or by feeding in the local radio broadcast when available. Samford partners with Maxvu Sports Broadcasting Network to stream the broadcasts over the Web, and Maxvu receives a share of the revenue collected from viewers. The athletic department’s only regular expense is what it pays the student workers who set up and run the camera.