Field and Stream

Stratford begins new era with live streaming of athletic events

Mr.+Baxter+Sowell+interviews+Stratford+senior+Harrison+Brown++in+the+press+box+before+Friday%27s+game+with+Mount+de+Sales

Gazebo Photo by Jack Medlin

Mr. Baxter Sowell interviews Stratford senior Harrison Brown in the press box before Friday’s game with Mount de Sales

Lights. Camera. Action.

Thanks to the new Stratford Eagles Sports Network, the school is now able to live-stream sporting events.

The new service began with the junior varsity and varsity home football games against FPD and Calvary Day on Oct. 15 and 16.

Mr. Tom McAfee and Mr. Baxter Sowell have helped spearhead the efforts to get the live-streaming under way. Mr. Sowell said the games can be found on both the Stratford and Stratford Gazebo web sites. It also is shared on social media. There is no cost to access the games.

“It’s a marketing piece for the school so that we can get alumni involved in getting reconnected with what’s going on at Stratford and a great opportunity for grandparents who may be out of town to see their grandchildren play,’’ Mr. McAfee said. “Fine Arts will be involved so Grandparents Day will be part of the stream.  We willl be able to stream a lot of different events. Some of the theatrical events we’ll have to be cautious of because there’s licensing involved in that, copyright issues, but Fine Arts days will be a streamable type of thing. Graduation will be part of that.”

We didn’t realize it was going to be good timing because you know now we’ve got the opportunity of bringing people to the stadium that you know may not feel safe coming to the game that can watch it remotely.”

— Mr. Tom McAfee

Mr. Tom McAfee with the new state-of-the-art equipment to live-stream games (Gazebo Photo by Knox Cleveland)

In addition to football, Stratford basketball and soccer games will be live-streamed, Mr. Sowell said.

Members of Stratford’s sports journalism class will have opportunities to provide color commentary, play-by-play announcing and possibly sideline reporting. Gazebo sports writers also can provide pre-game audio interview.

The live-stream uses a Pixelot camera, which utilizes a video processing unit. 

“From the simplistic part of it, the camera is a single camera unit,’’ Mr. McAfee said. “So there are two cameras inside the camera, inside of the camera housing and those tie into a video processing unit which is just a computer and that computer takes those two images so its a 180-degree field of view so you can see everything from light post to light post up there on top of the press box.’’

Mr. McAfee said the computer calibrates using the lines on the field to make sure that everything ties together and stitches both of those images together. Inside the computer there algorithms that know where the action is on the field.

“It is constantly analyzing the image and they’ve programmed it to be able to track and pan, spin, and zoom so that it looks like the camera operator is actually up there running the camera and it is all done by the computer,’’ Mr. McAfee said.

We don’t want to re-invent the wheel but that’s the model we are trying to emulate at Stratford. What’s really cool is this is a blank sheet of paper for us to figure out how we produce that. … It’s easy to focus on football, but it’s not a Friday night under the lights without the fans and the band and the cheerleaders. So don’t ignore it.”

— Mr. Baxter Sowell

` “The genius behind this system is they had to make it for schools not to be over-complicated and there plenty of techniques everywhere where people really get an issue and from a marketing side it makes it where almost anyone can access it,’’ Mr. Sowell said. “You click the link and you’re on.’’

Mr. McAfee said the idea for live-streaming school events began about three years ago.  Stratford began exploring the possibilities of streaming with a company in Atlanta called PlayOnSports, a division of Turner Broadcasting.

“There was an untapped market in high school athletics and thought that would be a way of generating interest and potentially some revenue so that was kind of the beginning part of it except back burner for a while and last year we resurrected that,’’ he said. “I met with Coach Farriba and the coaches to pitch it again and get their thoughts and input on it and one of the concerns that was brought to the table this might impact the number of folks that show up at our stadium to see the event live. How this might hurt our attendance was one of first questions that got raised.”

These discussions were before the pandemic. Now, with some fans remaining home because of COVID19 concerns, the live streams provide a service.

“We didn’t realize it was going to be good timing because you know now we’ve got the opportunity of bringing people to the stadium that you know may not feel safe coming to the game that can watch it remotely,’’ Mr. McAfee said.

A “hot mic” was utilized for the first varsity game. 

“You could hear the Stratford band the cheerleaders. We brought the level down so it’s like an ambient feel to it,’’ Mr. Sowell said. “ That’s the feel we want to hear. We don’t want to re-invent the wheel but that’s the model we are trying to emulate at Stratford. What’s really cool is this is a blank sheet of paper for us to figure out how we produce that. … It’s easy to focus on football, but it’s not a Friday night under the lights without the fans and the band and the cheerleaders. So don’t ignore it.’’