How To Prepare Your League (& Its Teams) For Live Streaming

Today, we bring you Live Streaming: The Supercharged Edition. Twenty summer collegiate baseball teams, 600 players, 700 games a season—and it’s all live streamed. We’re talking about Northwoods League, the largest organized baseball league in the world.

Glen Showalter, VP of operations for Northwoods League, is intimately familiar with the prep work required to pull off a successful season of live streaming in a complex environment. In his view, both the league and its individual teams play critical roles:

“The league’s role is to identify the infrastructure and equipment needed to produce a good quality product and to put into place the processes that allow the teams to be successful at doing that. The team’s role is to execute that plan.”

Whether you have 20 teams or five teams, you’ll find something in this article you can use to make your own process go just a little bit smoother.

Preseason Preparation: Live Stream Setup

According to Showalter, when a season ends in August, he waits a couple days—then starts prepping for next season. Topping the list of preseason planning concerns are:

Equipment

Your live stream technology is the foundation of a good product, so spend a fair amount of time sourcing your equipment. Make sure you have exactly what you want, and research tools that will see you well into the future. Much of this depends on your budget, of course.

For Northwoods League personnel, a huge amount of time and energy are put into selecting and configuring equipment. Currently they have a four-camera HD operation in all 20 ballparks. (The league started with analog in 2010. Last year, half the league upgraded to HD equipment; this year, the second half is upgrading.)

Equipment is standardized across all the teams—computers, wiring, cameras, etc.—so it’s easier for league personnel to provide technical support when needed. Every team’s computer can be remotely accessed by the league so they can help if problems arise. The same goes for potential wiring issues or camera problems. Any upgrades also happen at the league level. Want a new computer? Multiply the price times 20. Upgrading is an expensive proposition, one that’s partially funded by their streaming subscriptions. A significant number of viewers (many of whom have ties with any one of the more than 600 players) are willing to pay to watch, helping to offset the equipment and operating expenses.

Staff Training

You can have the best directors in the world, Showalter says, but if you don’t have camera operators who can react to their instructions and work as a team, it doesn’t matter. That’s why training is so important when it comes to preparing a league of any size for live streaming.

Northwoods itself has a fairly complex operation when it comes to staffing. Each of its 20 ballparks has its own broadcasting crew—two directors and three camera operators at a minimum. In addition to that, the league has its own central studio, which employs a production staff during baseball season, including an executive producer and an operations team. He makes sure there’s a technical expert among them—someone who knows the industry and has a fairly wide breadth of knowledge.

Don’t have a technical expert? A good platform provider will handle the tech for you! Find out what else a platform provider should do for you in this free guide.

Showalter and his team have produced several in-depth training videos that explain their equipment in detail. (The standardization of equipment makes this kind of training possible.) He prefers to start training as early as possible—at least several months before a season starts. Once the season is in full swing, there’s simply too much going on to spend time training.

Processes

Aside from the equipment and staffing, there are processes that need to be put in place. With 20 teams spread throughout several states, communication and coordination are critical in getting things done. Standardizing certain processes and procedures helps things flow more smoothly on game days:

  • File transferring. Every day the league produces a pregame show about the previous day’s results. It is distributed daily from the studio to all the teams that have a home game that night. The transferral method must be reliable, quick, and allow easy access to the show, so teams can air it at the appropriate time before the live stream begins. Showalter says they’ve used FTP sites in the past; they currently use Dropbox.
  • Coordination of air times. At the beginning of the season, league personnel coordinate with individual teams about what time to air the pregame show and when to cut over to the live feed at the ballpark.
  • Graphics production. Northwoods League uses a variety of graphics for each show, including intro graphics and lower thirds for players’ names and stats (600+ of them!). All of these are developed before the season starts. They also teach the team webcasting staff to cut highlights, use basebugs to show the location of players, and coordinate instant replay—things that are controlled at the league level.

Ready to supercharge your live streaming?

Your live stream might not have 10 games a day and 20 viewing portals (you can probably breathe a sigh of relief for that!), but preparation always makes or breaks a live stream—no matter the size of the operation.

Need help preparing? We stream more than 65,000 events every year (Northwoods included!), so we’ve seen it all—from sporting events, to church services, to beauty pageants. Get in touch if you have questions about your live stream setup or technology or if you’d like to find out more about our customized live stream portals. Lots of organizations rely on us to give their live stream a professional, branded look that wows viewers and keeps them coming back for more.


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How To Manage Athletics Live Streaming For 10+ Collegiate Sports

How To Manage Athletics Live Streaming for 10+ Collegiate Sports

We talk a lot about how to produce a successful live stream, but if you’re in college sports, you know it isn’t about just a single stream—it’s about producing and managing five, 10, 15, or sometimes even more, depending on how many athletics you’re live streaming.

For Mike Wells, associate director of athletics at Occidental College in Los Angeles (Oxy), this is familiar territory. He’s been broadcasting live sports at Oxy for six years and now manages the production of more than 10 live streams. He sat down with us briefly to give us the lowdown on how he makes it all work (though he’d be the first to say that, sometimes, it doesn’t all work!).

Athletics Live Streaming For 10+ Sports

How many live streams do you typically have going at once?

For us, event start times are usually staggered. In the spring, we stream baseball, softball, women’s lacrosse, and women’s water polo. In the winter, there’s swimming and basketball. In the fall, there’s volleyball, football, soccer, and men’s water polo. Sometimes, two events happen simultaneously, which we can broadcast on our two channels provided by Stretch, but there are rarely three things going on at once.

How do you ensure that you have the right equipment for a variety of venues?

We have five facilities—two outdoor fields, a stadium, a pool, and a gym. For most outdoor events, our setup is pretty standard and very portable: a tripod, one camera, a MacBook Pro, a mixer, and a headset. We use one camera for most events, but we do have a couple other cameras in case one is needed for another event taking place at the same time. The quality of our cameras varies, so if we have simultaneous streams, I’ll pick and choose cameras appropriately, depending on the type of the event and the venue. The gym, on the other hand, has a remote-operated camera controlled from inside the media room, which I believe is a pretty standard setup.

We try to upgrade equipment occasionally. That’s possible thanks to the monetization of our live stream, which makes some people happy and others unhappy! But the money really helps. At the end of the year, we typically break even with our live streaming costs, which includes our live streaming platform and our student helpers. Sometimes there’s money left over to invest in another laptop or another camera, or to swap out cords, etc. Often we’re just trying to maintain the program, but we do try to upgrade when we can and get a better camera, for instance, to improve our live stream.

What’s your staff like? How many people help out?

We’re like most Division III schools, where you might have one or two sports information directors (SIDs) and maybe a graduate assistant to do the work. (I was previously a SID at Oxy before becoming associate director of athletics.) I also have a lot of excellent volunteer help, and we’ve had great success with interns. The good thing is, our students are smarter than we are. So once you teach them how to do the basics, they usually run with it. Students receive compensation similar to that of a work-study program—for instance, the same as you’d pay a scorekeeper working at a game.

How do you train your volunteers?

As a SID, you have to recruit as much or more than coaches do—at least if you’re doing your job right. I’m always looking for people on campus who have a passion for sports and some type of background in sports. Maybe they play a sport one season and are willing to work in another or played lots of sports in high school but aren’t currently on a team. I find them, start training them, and try to get a feel for how reliable and committed they’ll be as a worker. If I think it’s a good fit, I’ll invest time in them as a person so that they essentially become an extension of myself, because I can only be in one place at a time. The better your students are, the better your chances will be of juggling a number of different responsibilities. Treat them well so they want to stay involved.

What are your primary areas of focus in terms of managing multiple live streams?

Managing staff is the biggest one. In addition to training them, you have to plan in advance to ensure you have the staff to work every event and that everyone knows what they’re doing the day of.

Multiple event streaming requires even more preplanning. Make it all go smoothly with this handy live streaming checklist, including what needs to be done before, during, and after every live stream event.

You’re also constantly involved with troubleshooting during any live sports broadcast. You’ll bump into technical issues occasionally, and 90% of them are related to the strength (or lack thereof) of your internet signal. Where you can, I’d advise plugging into ethernet, like we can in our stadium and the gym. But always be prepared for a variety of technical difficulties, and remember—things are bound to go wrong. Don’t let that stop you. Most people are appreciative that you’re making the effort. Live streaming has become the expectation whenever possible. If you can, you should be doing it.

Is your athletics program ready for live streaming?

If you’re ready to either start broadcasting live sports or need help implementing and managing multiple event streaming, we can help. We stream more than 65,000 events every year here at Stretch, many of which are collegiate sports (including all of Oxy’s games!). We’re always happy to talk you through your setup or give honest advice about equipment, processes, or anything else related to your athletics live streaming efforts. We’ve got your back!


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Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

We don’t have a crystal ball here at Stretch (or maybe we do… in storage somewhere?), but what we do have is a keen understanding of the live streaming industry. All of us are passionate about our trade and make it our business to keep a finger on the pulse, so to speak. Knowing what might be coming around the bend helps us serve our clients better, and drives our business forward. (Plus, we admit it—we just can’t get enough.)

Based on our observations of live streaming trends already in the making, here are our musings about what we think is coming down the pike.

Live Streaming Trends & Predictions

First, we think the live streaming process will become more standardized.

The soaring popularity for live streaming as of late is a testament to the fact that there are certain things that are just better to watch live: that wedding you couldn’t afford to fly to, that sporting event that sold out before you could get a ticket, and that business conference you wished you could go to but couldn’t find the time. As a result, live streaming can’t be ignored. People are starting to expect it, and they want it to look flawless—like video on demand (VOD).

Not live streaming yet? Prepare your organization for the future with this extensive guide to live streaming—it includes everything you need to know to get started!

But compared to VOD, live streaming is harder to pull off correctly. It will never be as easy as VOD, and while it might never reach the same level of simplicity, there’s plenty of room for improvement. With both demand and expectations skyrocketing, this is where we’ll be seeing huge progress in the near future. As more companies enter the live streaming space, their research and work will help set the standard for best practices that make live streaming easier. This leads us to our second prediction….

Live streaming providers will turn to middleware solutions to make live streaming production easier.

End users want excellent live streaming video quality—period. To make that happen, companies will have to look to outside vendors and solutions for help.

We expect that big companies experimenting with live streaming will realize they need to be just as agile as small companies, which means that sometimes they will have to step outside the box and partner with a small company, or take advantage of alternative solutions (like open source software) that help them solve a specific problem.

Similarly, small companies hoping to compete in the same space as larger companies may need to partner with larger players who can help reduce their workflow. Why create something new on your own when someone else’s solution will do the trick? Streaming provider Wowza, for instance, offers organizations the ability to deploy its streaming engine using servers built by Amazon. We’ll see more of this sharing economy as companies of all sizes realize they don’t need to build everything themselves if someone has already done it well. Partnerships like these will propel live streaming forward.

As live streaming progresses technically, other issues will become more important. This leads us to our third prediction…

Live streaming providers will increasingly put more emphasis on differentiating features.  

History repeats itself. VOD has advanced to the point where a video on its own is no longer enough—there has to be some additional value-add. The same will happen eventually with live streaming as it becomes more commonplace. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all entering the live streaming space, and people will inevitably demand more. Simply providing a live streaming solution won’t be sufficient in the future, so providers will have to be creative to stand out from the pack.

For instance, it’s great if you can see this event or that game, but it won’t be long before you start wanting relevant information alongside the live stream. Examples of this and other differentiating features that are already on the live streaming horizon:

We’re curious to know about the live streaming trends you’re seeing, and where you think live streaming is headed! Leave us a message in the comments below.

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4 Top-Notch Leadership Books Pastors Are Reading Today

4 Top-Notch Leadership Books Pastors Are Reading Today

We asked Tim Ahlman, senior pastor at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church in Gilbert, Arizona, to share with us his thoughts about the best leadership books for the modern pastor. Here’s what he had to say!

Most pastors are in this business because they love people and love Jesus. But despite those genuine intentions, some pastors really struggle with leadership skills. I strongly believe that pastors need to invest in leadership books that are both sacred and secular, so they can grow in their ability to connect with their congregants and with the community.

There are so many great leadership books out there I could recommend—but these four (organized alphabetically by last name) are worth checking out as soon as possible.

1. The Four Disciplines Of Execution

By Sean Covey, Jim Huling, & Chris McChesney

The Four Disciplines of Execution” is an excellent book for those who want to become better leaders. It walks through four distinct rules good leaders tap into: focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability.

While this book is written from a secular business perspective, its themes can easily be applied in a church setting. Many churches strategize well, but when the rubber meets the road and it comes time to carry out a plan, they get stuck in what this book calls the “whirlwind”—or the day-to-day grind. This is a very helpful read for anyone who feels like they may be stuck.

(If you want a sneak peak into the theme of the book, check out this Q&A with Forbes contributor Dan Schawbel and the three authors.)

2. Simplify: 10 Practices To Unclutter Your Soul

By Bill Hybels

Bill Hybels is a long-time pastor from Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. He is one of my favorite authors in the Christian leadership genre because his work is so practical and applicable. “Simplify” talks about how the exhausting pace we live at can leave us spiritually drained—and offers advice on how you can break free from this harmful pattern.

3. The Ideal Team Player

By Patrick Lencioni

Patrick Lencioni is a best-selling author of many business leadership books, including “Death by Meeting” and “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.” In his most recent book “The Ideal Team Player,” Patrick identifies three different values or characteristics that define a key teammate: someone who is humble, hungry, and smart. This has been instrumental in helping me identify ways to interact with my non-paid and paid leadership staff.

You can learn more about Patrick and his work on his website.  

4. Communicating For A Change: 7 Keys To Irresistible Communication

By Andy Stanley & Lane Jones

Andy Stanley is the pastor of North Point Community Church in the Atlanta area, and Lane Jones is the executive director of membership development there. Together, they created “Communicating for a Change,” which is a must-read for pastors today. In it, you’ll learn seven critical methods to connect with your congregants, like moving them through a “one point” sermon.

(Also, check out Andy Stanley’s website—he hosts a wonderful monthly podcast!)

What leadership book are you reading today?

Tweet us @strechinternet and let us know, and your recommendation might end up in an upcoming article!

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How To Increase Church Attendance & Membership (With The Internet’s Help)

How To Increase Church Attendance & Membership (With The Internet's Help)

We asked Tim Ahlman, senior pastor at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church in Gilbert, Arizona, to share with us his thoughts on how to increase church attendance and membership—check out his insight below.

Is church attendance and membership dwindling? If so, why?

The macro Christian church—both Catholic and Protestant traditions together—is losing traction. Smaller churches are getting smaller, and larger churches are getting larger, but the net result is a decrease in weekly church attendance.

Consistent average attendance for someone who says they are engaged in a church body is attending a weekend worship service roughly once every three weeks. In previous generations, engaged members of the church body would attend far more regularly.

But today, there are so many other things competing for people’s attention. Additionally, churchgoers want to know that a particular church will meet their needs:

  • Is the church making a difference in the community?
  • Are they going to meet my ministry needs?
  • Do they care about societal ills?
  • Will the church be judgmental and focused only on filling its pockets?
  • Will the church have the things my family and I need?

Today, if the programs for a smaller church are not what people think they should be, they will go elsewhere.

Our congregation has experienced pretty rapid growth—we’ve gone from about 450 people at Sunday worship to over 1,000 in about three years’ time. We feel that God is helping us look outside of ourselves and is leading us into creative ways to engage our community.

How did Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran increase church attendance and membership with the internet’s help?

Video

Our culture is so visual. Spoken word is one thing, but to see people share their testimony and message in real time is very compelling. Therefore, video has been a major part of our ministry. Two years ago, we came up with our “3E” church mission and our tagline “Experience, Empower, Expand—Join the Journey.” We wanted to get that message out through in-service and online videos, so we invested in a professional videographer. He produced about 10 really compelling videos for us, which had great results.

Social Media

It’s critical to meet people where they’re at, and our congregation lives on social media. Two years ago, we weren’t engaged consistently and intentionally on social media—but today, we utilize it frequently. Our primary social outlet is Facebook, but we’re beginning to put more effort into Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. All of our sermons, special videos, event information, and weekly announcements are shared across social media platforms.

If we just post a video on our website, it doesn’t have near the amount of views as when we promote it on social media. Facebook and other social platforms allow individuals to have a digital conversation with me or other church leaders, which is great for community engagement.

Live Streaming

We’re not yet doing live streaming—but it’s something we’re in the process of setting up in the next couple of months. We see live streaming as a way for our church body to stay connected to the message from afar as well as an evangelical tool to reach members of the community who are disenfranchised from church.

Being in Arizona, some of our congregants are “snowbirds,” or winter visitors. They love staying connected with us and worshiping with us from their summer homes, so live streaming will be an ideal option for them. Millennials and community members outside of the church body are also more likely to engage with us online and check out the vibe of the church before attending physically. We see it as a huge value-add.

What advice would you offer other churches that are looking to increase church membership and attendance?

If you want to increase your church attendance or church membership using the internet, you have to start somewhere. Sometimes I think church leaders don’t think incrementally enough! If you’re not doing anything online, ask tech-savvy members for their help. If you want to reach youth and millennials, ask them where they’re hanging out online and then as a church leader, meet them there.

We started out simply putting our videos on YouTube—then we progressively started  doing more and more. It doesn’t mean your first foray into using the internet to increase church attendance has to be live streaming—just think incrementally. If pastors and leaders of other churches would just start sharing their messages via social media and video—even prior to having the resources to do anything dramatic—it will really set the stage. So just start doing it!

Even if live streaming sounds daunting to you, consider looking into it. Stretch is very cost effective—even for smaller congregations—which means churches of all sizes can start soon.

A big thanks to Tim Ahlman for discussing this with us!


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