See how Ashville High School (Ala.) has been broad­cast­ing volleyball games with Hudl Focus and Open Broadcaster Software.

COVID-19 has brought all kinds of challenges to coaches and athletic directors. But for schools who got the green light to play fall sports, one of the biggest hurdles was figuring out how to engage and entertain fans when they can’t be in the bleachers.

In 2019, Hudl Focus could livestream directly to YouTube. We’ve heard some say that’s how they prefer to stream because it’s simple and free. But we knew there’d be schools looking for more—more platforms to stream to and more options for broadcasting. So we got to work. 

We’re excited to announce that on top of streaming directly to YouTube, teams can now send their Focus video to any broadcast software that accepts IP feeds as an RTMP video source.

Because you have the freedom to use any broadcast software you choose, it might be tough to know where to start. So we sat down with three schools that have tested the new broadcasting feature to learn more about their workflows and why they chose the software they did.

What’s your name and role at Ashville High School?

My name is Nick Wilson and I’m the director of operations and creative media for Ashville’s athletic department.

How long has your school been broadcasting games?

We’ve been broadcasting for two years, starting our third year now. There have been a lot of growing pains but we’ve learned a lot and it’s been a really rewarding experience for our fans, athletes and coaches.

How has using Hudl Focus changed your game day workflow?

Last year was our first year with Focus. The previous year, we had our own makeshift setup. Integrating Focus was a huge timesaver and helped us out a lot. Before Focus, there was a lot of hardware chaos and mayhem.

Now, it’s become an easy process of making sure the camera’s on and recording, making sure our coaches are fine, then turning on our broadcast software, inputting the information. And that’s it—we’re good to go. We broadcasted our first volleyball game with Focus about two weeks ago and it took me about 10 minutes to set up. I inputted all the information into the broadcast software, clicked “Go live” on Facebook and we were broadcasting the game on YouTube and Facebook. Our fans and parents loved it.

Did you look into any other smart cameras? Why’d you choose Hudl Focus?

When we looked at purchasing Focus, we looked at a lot of other cameras. We wanted something that would take out a man, and what I mean by that is we’re a smaller school without a lot of manpower so we knew we wanted an automated camera. What made sense for us with Focus was the freedom it allowed us. The other systems lock you into one streaming capability and didn’t offer the service and integration we wanted.

It also made it easy that our rep and everyone else at Hudl is so easy to talk to. That’s why it was an easy decision for us to lock in with Focus. We knew if we had any problems, you guys would be there to walk us through whatever we needed.

What benefits does broadcasting provide your school, athletes and fans?

We have a centralized booster organization and the goal of this organization is to sell as many sponsorships as possible. With our broadcasting capabilities, we’re able to integrate the media side of things and promote sponsors more than ever before.

Our leadership wants to engage fans while also promoting sponsors and broadcasting is a great way to engage fans in an already crowded social space. We’re able to post logos and different forms of advertisements, while also giving our parents and fans an experience that is unique and one they’ve never had before. We’re all used to turning on a collegiate or professional broadcast on TV, so it’s really neat to give fans the same or similar experience while watching a sporting event for their local high school. And for us, it’s nice to be able to tell sponsors specific data about the promotion and engagement they’re getting by boosting our broadcasts.

What’s your primary purpose for broadcasting?

We have two main goals on the media side of things. The primary goal is the promotion of athletes and making sure they get recognition for all the hard work and time they put in. We want to make sure our coaches don’t have to worry about the promotion side of their sport so they can focus on coaching. Our job is to make sure coaches and athletes are promoted and everything’s at the fingertips of fans and parents so they don’t have to go too far to find out what their kids are doing. Also, if we have kids that want to play at the next level and have that capability, it’s our job to make sure they get that exposure.

Our secondary goal is fan engagement and promotion. We want to make sure they have everything they need and a platform that allows them to support what’s going on. Even if we have a team that’s not doing well, we want to make sure there’s some sort of platform where fans can engage with one another so there’s this idyllic sense of community to grow and unite behind something.

It’s important for fans, parents and alumni to support our kids and we make it easy for them to do that when we bring the event to them through their device. Yes, we want to make money, but again, we want to make money so it can support facility improvement, athletic development and academic development. Not money to put in our pockets. Broadcasting allows us to do all those things.

What does your broadcast workflow look like? What software do you use and do you send it to a livestreaming platform from there?

Right now, for volleyball, we’re only using our Focus camera. We send the IP feed to OBS on a desktop computer. We have a broadcasting studio where we’re hardwired into the network to make this work. We’ve also worked with our IT department to make sure our firewall will allow everything to function. 

The workflow is we’ll have one or two people that come in to make sure the camera’s turned on and we get with the coach to make sure they’re good. Then we go into the studio, turn on the computer, select Focus as the video source on OBS, and get all our overlays and commercials ready to go.

Then we’ll connect it to YouTube and Facebook for livestreaming, but we still use OBS to switch between commercials and bumpers throughout the broadcast. 

For basketball, we’re going to add three more cameras into our broadcast software. We’ll use Focus as the main panoramic angle and the other three will be set up in different spots throughout the gym. We’ll have a producer and director for our big games as well.

How did you decide on the broadcast software you chose? Were there any others you looked into?

We looked at several different options. vMix definitely being the number one we looked at. The great thing about OBS is it can be complicated, but it can also be really simple. A lot of people use OBS because it’s open-source and it doesn’t cost anything. That was a significant advantage for us too, but we had broadcasting software in the budget anyway.

The problem with vMix was that there were too many things that got lost in the weeds and we thought that people on staff who weren’t as technologically advanced could understand OBS a little bit better. In the end, everyone was just more comfortable using OBS.

Why did you decide to also livestream to YouTube and Facebook?

Facebook is our number one platform for parent and distant fan engagement. What I mean by that is alumni that graduated a long time ago. Our older fan base is significantly larger than our younger demographic fan base so Facebook is where most of our audience is. They also do a great job of promoting streams through creator studio and their business features. Facebook has done a lot over the past three years to give us the tools to promote on their platform. We can put our sponsorship partners directly on the post and archive streams so people can watch later on. I also love using their insights tool to see how the broadcasts are doing and how our audience is engaging so we can take that data back to our sponsors.

YouTube obviously because it’s the staple. They give us a lot of tools, and while our fan base isn’t huge on there, we can integrate it on Twitter and Instagram where our student fan base resides. 

Eventually, we plan to expand and embed the stream directly on our website to reach fans that aren’t on either platform. We’ve had a lot of people leave social media so we want somewhere to direct them to watch the streams.

Do you add anything to make your broadcast more dynamic? (Live commentary, custom graphics, advertisements, etc.)

We sell to sponsors in packages and the top package gets a 30-second commercial that we guarantee will be shown on every broadcast at least once. We have commercial playlists set up in OBS that’ll run during long breaks. We also have a bumper shot that’s just pictures of our kids so if we’re going to commercial or coming back, we’ll run that with music in the background.

We do graphics, but the graphics on OBS are very basic. It’s hard to integrate motion graphics so you just have to stick with static ones. But we will still put our athletic logos up and other pictures of our brand.

There’s music integration throughout and live audio. We have a 12-panel mixer and wireless microphones for commentary and audio. We pride ourselves on making a broadcast that you wouldn’t expect from a school of our size, so adding all of these things allows us to produce a game that’s more dynamic.

What was the hardest part about getting set up with a broadcast software?

The biggest thing is learning the ins and outs. You’re going to run into a problem at 7 p.m. when no one is around to answer the phone. The biggest obstacle isn’t getting the equipment because you can get this set up with a relatively small budget. And you can bring people in to help. 

The biggest obstacle is learning what to do when something goes wrong. Not learning the software, but learning how to troubleshoot it when it doesn’t work. We all know how to drive a car, but not everyone knows how to fix the car. You need to learn how to fix the car.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a team getting started with broadcasting?

Dip your toe in the water. Don’t do a cannonball and don’t take a dive. Hudl Focus makes it really easy to livestream to YouTube. If you’ve never streamed before, start there. Set up a YouTube channel, log into the Focus app and select the games you’d like to stream. 

Once you get comfortable with that, go to the next step of broadcasting. This has been an eight-year journey for us. It’s going to take some time but after a lot of research and learning, it’ll happen. But in the beginning, just take it easy. The great thing about Hudl Focus is it makes it easy to dip your toe in the water or get as advanced as you want to.

Ready to stream your Focus video? Check out the broadcasting and livestreaming guide to see your options and learn how it works.

Don’t have Focus yet? Get in touch.