When Yale football coach Jack Siedlecki goes on a recruiting trip, he hears the same questions over and over from parents. “They always want to know, ‘Are you on TV? Can I get the games?'” he said.
With the exception of the game against rival Harvard, the answer is usually, “No.” The big TV networks simply aren’t interested in the Ivy League. But the Ivy League and other small college sports conferences might have found a way around that–the internet. Many schools, and now even some conferences, have begun showing football and other sports on their web sites.
“We can produce our own television and reach, literally, the entire world on the web, without having to go through the issues of: Is there cable availability? Is there satellite availability? Is there advertising support?” said Jeff Orleans, Ivy League commissioner.
He expects most of the league’s sporting events will be online within seven years. Big Sky Conference’s Northern Arizona offered webcasts of home football games last year. Using the four cameras already set up to provide replays on the stadium scoreboard, the school added audio from its radio broadcasts, along with continually updated statistics.
“Our fans love it,” said Steven Shaff, a spokesman for the school’s athletic department. “We had people in Alaska, parents of students in Canada, watching our games last year.” This season, the entire nine-school Big Sky Conference will webcast all football, basketball, and volleyball games, using technology from Salt Lake City-based SportsCast Network LLC.
Fans will be able to choose which team’s audio feed to listen to. Games will be archived and can be downloaded to portable devices such as Apple’s iPod.
“This is the future,” Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton said. “The fans will decide what they are going to watch and when they are going to watch it.”
Contrast that with television, where only a handful of games each week are chosen for national broadcast, primarily featuring Top 25 Division I-A teams.
The financial setup is different from traditional television contracts, in which networks pay a flat fee for broadcast rights. In the Big Sky contract, the schools keep the rights and provide feeds to SportsCast, which processes the video for viewing online.
The schools sell advertising and charge a subscription fee–it’s $60 to follow one Big Sky school all year. The schools share profits with SportsCast.
Until recently, putting sports online had not been practical. Not enough people had high-speed internet connections.
But that’s changed. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 62 percent of U.S. internet users now have broadband at home, compared with 21 percent just four years ago. Online video technology also has improved, allowing for bigger, sharper pictures that take up much less bandwidth, said Michael Begley, the CEO and founder of SportsCast.
SportsCast isn’t alone. The NCAA last year contracted with Charleston, S.C.-based Penn Atlantic LLC to help show some of its Division II and III basketball championships. The Division III semifinal games last March had 49,000 people log on, said Jack Pennington, CEO of Penn Atlantic.
“There’s still nothing like sitting in your chair and watching high-definition football on TV,” said Jon Kasper of the Big Sky Conference. “But for our fans who don’t have that option, this is the wave of the future.”