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:
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.
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.
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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.
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.