By Kyle Brennan and Roger Cleaveland, Staff
Perched atop the press box overlooking Veterans Field at Naugatuck High School is an advanced camera system ready to stream live any of the action that takes place on the field this fall.
Down Route 8 and up Rimmon Hill, Woodland has been streaming video broadcasts of games for a decade.
Almost every facet of society has turned to technology to help weather the COVID-19 pandemic, and high school sports will be the latest to harness that power.
Why? Because it’s still to be determined how many schools will allow fans to watch games, and if they do, how many fans will actually be able to attend.
Earlier this month, the CIAC published schedules for all fall sports except football, which has been canceled, with a start date of Oct. 1. The short amount of time remaining before the hopeful start of games will allow teams to conduct their first full-squad practices, but it will also give school districts the opportunity to figure out other issues — including whether in-person spectators will be allowed.
Most schools, including Naugatuck and Woodland, still hadn’t determined as of Sept. 17 whether they will allow fans to attend games in person.
“The CIAC recommended no fans but is leaving it up to districts,” Naugatuck athletic director Brian Mariano said. “Some NVL schools are a no, some are a yes, and some are (still deciding). We realize that Naugatuck is a very athletically driven area, and if possible, we’re going to work on some hybrid model of trying to allow some fans.”
If some fans are allowed to attend games, that might only be the case for outdoor sports. Volleyball and swimming will likely pose more challenges in terms of attendance.
“We’re pretty sure that we’re going to be held to the (state’s indoor attendance) limit,” Mariano said. “Just with the athletes alone you’re at 25 or 35 people, so we need to seek some answers to see if we’re still held to that.”
Woodland’s fan status is the same as its northern neighbor, but a decision is expected soon.
“We’re going to have a meeting with some of the decision makers and come to a final decision,” Woodland athletic director Chris Decker said. “Most of the schools are still in the process of discussing that with their superintendents, but we’re going to the take the CIAC recommendations strongly.”
Regardless of the fan policy, both schools will produce live video streams of as many games as possible. Naugatuck is one of nine local schools that have taken advantage of the offer from the National Federation of High Schools to stream events on its network. Naugatuck came on board two years ago when the CIAC offered free Pixellot cameras to schools that hosted a lot of tournament games for the organization.
“It has worked out really well for us because it is really good quality,” Mariano said. “The picture is nice and clean, and you can hear the background sound. It has multiple cameras that follow the play throughout the field, and we can tape anything that takes place on the field.”
CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini has been exceptionally pleased with the NFHS Network, saying last fall’s championship games had 47,000 views.
“It is an outstanding system,” Lungarini said. “The majority of sites we use for quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of our state tournament play have them. Whether it is using the Pixellot cameras or having their own student broadcast systems tie into the NFHS feed and offer it over the network, it has been a good experience for a lot of viewers.”
Schools that want the cameras pay a one-time installation fee of $2,500 for both with no other annual fees or subscription costs for the length of the five-year contract. All events of the school’s choosing — sporting events, band competitions, graduations — are then streamed live and archived on the network.
Schools also have the option of having their own student broadcast networks upload their footage to the NFHS Network.
Fans wishing to watch events on the network online must subscribe at $10.99 per month or $69.99 per year. Schools receive 10% of all subscriptions purchased by their parents and fans. They also receive 100% of all local advertising they sell for the broadcasts.
The cameras can either run completely automatically or be supplemented by broadcasters.
“It is a very well-run network,” Lungarini said. “Those cameras do an outstanding job, but any school that has a student broadcast system doesn’t need to use them. You can tie into the network and offer the games you shoot. Either way, it is a great way for family members to still see those games.”
Mariano said he has been impressed enough with the camera system that Naugatuck has ordered the two additional cameras being offered by the NFHS for its gym and one on an additional athletic field.
“We’re going to stream the games like we did with our graduation on our Facebook feed,” Mariano said.
Woodland will try to add more games to its previously existing streaming regimen, which has historically been operated by the student-run Hawk Headlines on YouTube.
“We’re going to stream as much as possible,” Decker said. “We may not be able to get all of the games, especially if we have multiple games going on at once. There’s one day where we have soccer, volleyball, cross country and swimming at once, so that’s going to be hard. We’re going to be equitable about how we stream them.”