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Traxler: The business of sports webcasting is worth watching

One of the greatest advances of the 21st century as it pertains to covering high school sports is the growth of webcasting.

The last few years have been big in that regard in South Dakota, with more schools showing more sporting events, to the point that it’s more likely that the most popular sports — football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling — are being streamed online in even the smallest schools, along with a few track and field meets, too.

For the most part, if you want to watch a high school sporting event online, you can find it. And in South Dakota, those events are usually free. That is a tremendous advancement that didn’t exist widely even five years ago.

With that in mind, there was a story this week which caught my attention. The Star Tribune reported on Edina High School in the western suburbs of Minneapolis and the Hornets’ vaunted boys hockey team, which has won a record 12 state titles. The school is charging media outlets $100 per game to livestream games from its home arena.

Edina’s activities director told the newspaper that the school is trying to combat the effects of lower attendance at games, while generating some revenue off the increased interest in streaming games from one of Minnesota’s most popular high school programs in any sport.

They’re believed to be the only school in Minnesota that charges outlets a fee for livestreaming games.  

In South Dakota, the streaming of high school games is essentially unhindered. A change to the state laws a few years ago prohibited public schools from denying media coverage, including streaming of sporting events. The laws would have to change again, said Jody Brozik, to allow schools to charge for streaming of local sporting events.  

Brozik, of Winner, has built his Sports Ticket Live business quickly over the last few years, signing contracts with many area schools to stream their games. His operation is mostly funded by local sponsorships. But in covering the hometown Warriors in recent years, Brozik has ran into fee frustrations.

Valentine, Nebraska — a frequent out-of-state foe for Winner — charges $250 to non-school entities that wish to livestream games. In turn, Brozik doesn’t broadcast those road games but Valentine has its own crew that shows games.

For postseason games in South Dakota, South Dakota Public Broadcasting has the rights to those contests. If SDPB doesn’t choose to broadcast those games, such as a region playoff game, they can be streamed by local outlets provided they either pay $75 to the SDHSAA or broadcast in-kind public service announcements during the game provided by the SDHSAA.

Brozik said he understands schools wanting to recoup revenues from their sporting events and if there’s any possible change on the horizon, it could be toward charging viewers to see events online.

“There could be a market for pay-per-view streaming,” he said, especially for postseason games. That would require a rule change from the SDHSAA, as well.   

It’s hard to know what’s next for streaming games. Games aren’t attended in droves and schools will always have tight budgets, so a move to charge for streams or a season pass could be in the future. But convincing fans to pay to watch high school games at home seems like a tough ask.

And with regards to the Edina example, it’s hard to see that applying in South Dakota. There aren’t many programs with that kind of dynastic status in South Dakota that could warrant charging streaming outlets or media companies $50 or $100 per game. At the end of the day, exposure of high school sports is better than nothing at all.

One thing seems sure: for as quickly as streaming has arrived, change again almost seems certain.