This fall, there will be no raucous student sections, no chants of “we believe we will win” and no clouds of baby powder emanating from a cluster of teens dressed in school colors.
As has been widely discussed, the games on the fields, courts and pools in Connecticut will look different this fall with schools and leagues taking precautions against COVID-19.
In addition to new protocols on the field, sidelines and bleachers are going to take on a new appearance with no fans allowed at some schools and other schools limiting attendance to just family.
Per state guidelines in Phase 3 of reopening, outdoor event capacity for spectators is 100 total, though schools are not anticipating ever getting close to that threshold.
Indoor events are limited to 50% capacity in Phase 3, though most schools are either not allowing any fans for volleyball and swimming or limiting it to parents.
With no student sections and parents limited to home games, fans will be looking for other ways to watch high school sports this fall.
Many schools will be offering games via live streaming options either through school and town run programs or through professional companies.
GameTimeCT sent a questionnaire to athletic directors around the state and the responses ranged from no fans at all to some family members at home games, but no visiting fans. No school that responded is allowing full attendance and some athletic directors are simply deferring to whatever guidelines are put in place by their conferences.
For example, Meriden schools will only allow parents to attend games, no siblings or friends and all fans must wear masks.
In Meriden, the home team will designate safety monitors to ensure everyone is adhering to the rules. Those not following rules will be asked to leave. Fans and or organizers may also be subject to fines as defined by the Governor’s Executive Order 9C.6.
The policy in Meriden is similar to many others around the state.
In another example, Brookfield will allow just varsity parents to attend games in Week 1, expanding to parents of all grades in the following weeks if there are no problems.
Brookfield will also require those attending games to register through Google forms before they can attend contests and show ID at the gate before entering.
Spectators must wear masks, sit in marked areas and cannot enter the school.
Many schools are giving two season passes to each family, some are limiting those passes to only parents of seniors.
Others, such as many technical high schools, will not be allowing fans at all.
The FCIAC, SWC, ECC, CCC and SCC have not set formal policies, instead leaving it up to each member school to decide.
“We are in the process of implementing a plan in which each varsity athlete would be given two sport specific lanyards which their parents can use to attend their son or daughter’s games,” said FCIAC Commissioner Dave Schultz. “We are still waiting on a couple of our districts to give the OK for having these lanyards be acceptable for parents to attend games. All will be ready to go for Thursday.”
Some schools in the FCIAC have previously said no fans, at all.
“In following with district policy of not letting any visitors onto our campus, we decided to keep consistent and follow same policy for our athletic events,” Darien Athletic Director Chris Manfredonia said.
Making the decision to not allow fans at Darien easier is that the school has had a live streaming option in place since 2017 run through Darien Athletic Foundation Media, which is a joint venture of the Darien Athletic Foundation and The Darien Foundation.
DAF Media is managed by Damian Andrew, a two-time local Emmy winner who was previously an anchor for News 12 Connecticut Sports.
Broadcasts are run by Andrew and a volunteer staff of students who do everything from running cameras to commentary.
“We normally do 30-40 broadcasts a season, but with this condensed season we will do as many in five weeks as we can,” Andrew said. “This fall, we will broadcast two games at the same time if there are two things happening on campus. One will be our normal production with graphics and replay and the other will be scaled down version with one camera, one broadcaster and one director.”
Games can be viewed through the DAF YouTube channel, which currently has more than 2,500 subscribers.
There is no fee to watch games on DAF.
Andrew expects a larger viewing crowd this year, especially among fans of opposing schools.
Andrew said some other towns have reached out about wanting to start their own version of DAF Media.
“It’s an undertaking,” Andrew said. “You need to grow the student involvement first. When we started, we had one student signed up to volunteer. This fall we have 20 kids involved right now, but that may grow as the fall goes on. You need numbers to do this. Like a team, you need depth and you need kids passionate about broadcasting.”
Other schools have student-run productions, which will be broadcasting games either through video or, in some cases, through radio broadcasts.
Schools that did not have streaming options in the past are now trying to figure out student-run options on the fly.
While DAF is student run with the guidance of Andrew, other schools use professional companies for live streaming.
The National Federation of State High School Associations runs the NFHS network, which is used by schools across the state.
Users pay a monthly fee of $10.99 to watch, but once you have a subscription you can view any game on the network, allowing fans to watch both home and road games as long as the schools have NFHS.
That monthly subscription also allows fans to access any game in the NFHS archives. The program began seven years ago.
Schools pay a one-time fee of $2,500 to have equipment installed and then pay nothing for the next five years of the contract.
“We were one of the first to put in NFHS a couple of years ago. It is a great system for us and we are glad we have it in place this fall,” Shelton Athletic Director John Niski said. “We will be broadcasting all games in the stadium and in the gym. We had to purchase the cameras, but for games all I do is turn them on and off. They zoom in and out on their own and rotate to follow the action.”
Niski said Shelton can put any advertising they want on during the broadcasts and can generate revenue through commercials. One-hundred percent of advertising revenue stays with the schools.
Schools share in the NFHS revenues anytime someone signs up for a subscription under that school’s name.
Foran just got their NFHS cameras last spring and is still figuring out the system, but excited about the possibilities.
“We are getting the camera calibrated in the gym and then we will be ready to go,” Foran Athletic Director Anthony Vitelli said. “We got it last May or June. At the end of last year, with the school year ending, we weren’t sure what the plans were for graduation. In case we couldn’t have parents, we had this so that the parents could watch it live.
“Eventually we had wanted to get it for sports. If we get a camera, we can show pep rallies and any school event in the gym. It is a great opportunity for parents. If we are playing an away game, say at Shelton (which has NFHS) and you are a member you can still log onto the game, that is a bonus.”
NFHS has cameras in place at 69 schools in conferences all across the state. NFHS is available in every state in the country.
In July, NHFS started a program to provide schools with two new Pixellot cameras, valued at $5,000 apiece.
One camera goes on the press box of the football stadium and one gets set up in the gymnasium.
Schools can purchase additional cameras to put at swimming pools, wrestling rooms or tracks.
Since the inception of that program the number of participating schools across the country has doubled, according to NFHS Chief Marketing Officer Mark Koski.
“Our goal is to be in every high school in the country and one day be able to broadcast up to two million a year,” Koski said. “We want to make sure fans do not miss a game. Most of our subscribers in the past have been from people not within driving distance of the school. So, grandparents out of state or parents who have to travel can watch all the games.”
NFHS is not only a useful tool for fans, but also college recruiters who may not be able to attend high school games in person this fall.
“Our content is very valuable and for that $10.99 a month you can watch a lot of great athletes from around the country,” Koski said. “We want to make these games accessible to as many people as possible. Our games can be viewed on your phone or tablets, through Roku, Apple TV or however you watch things.”
LocalLive is a national outlet which has made streaming inroads in Connecticut the last two years.
Currently, LocalLive serves 12 schools in Connecticut, mainly in Fairfield County.
LocalLive has seen its membership nearly double this fall nationwide as schools across the country scramble to find ways for fans to watch games.
All LocalLive broadcasts are free to watch with fees being paid by the participating schools or by local sponsors.
“Many High schools are limiting attendance and some banning it altogether so we are expecting a much larger viewership this year,” said LocalLive founder and President Nelson Santos. “Not only from parents and students, but from college coaches, recruiters, reporters and school alumni looking for community connections during these difficult times. We are even working with some local and national media companies to get them video clips of games since their photographers can’t attend or may not be able to travel.”
Like DAF Media, LocalLive uses students to help run the broadcasts, though they can do so from the comforts of their homes.
“First, all our cameras around the country are remotely operated, we contract mostly high school and college students around the country to remote operate cameras and produce games from their homes and dorm rooms using a standard PC and a gaming controller,” Santos said. “They often say it’s like Uber, but you don’t have to go anywhere. Since games always fall outside of school hours, it’s the perfect after-school job, and they get paid by the game. We have hundreds of high school and college students, teachers, veterans, retirees and many more game producers around the country with the highest concentration here in Fairfield County. The second way we use students is that all of our systems allow a student broadcasting club to plug in a microphone and incorporate play-by-play into sports broadcasts.”
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