From football to show choir to everything in between, JHS livestreams it all so fans can watch, engage with and support school activities.
Just a few years ago, Randy Sparks—the IT Project Manager, Activities Technology Director and Livestream Coodinator for Johnston High School (Iowa)—thought it was worth a shot to livestream a football game. So, he reached out to the athletic director, assembled the technology, and streamed the school’s first football game of the season.
The Dragons’ inaugural livestream amassed over 8,000 views. After the game, Sparks’s phone rang. The superintendent of the school district liked what she saw.
“The superintendent called me and goes, ‘What will it take to stream several events at one time?’ So I put a [plan] together and she said ‘Go do it.’”
While the value of livestreaming was clear from the first game, Sparks had larger ambitions. Over time, he built a broadcast network at JHS called “Dragon TV.”
Make no mistake: Dragon TV was not an overnight success. It took years to build the school’s streaming network, and having a dedicated technology director in Sparks simplified the growth and expansion of the department.
Not every school has a Randy Sparks at the ready.
But for programs looking to get a start in livestreaming, the barrier to entry is low. The tools exist to make the process simple, and the juice is worth the squeeze. Johnston High School is a testament to that.
Today, Dragon TV is capable of streaming multiple events every night. It’s not just sports, but all programs, clubs and activities in the school—including show choir. The concert livestreams have been arguably more popular than any other event.
“We have anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 viewers for football. Basketball we average between 500 to 800,” Sparks said. “And we have had roughly 16,000 people tuned in for show choir. But that’s just a count of computers or phones, you may have two to three people watching together.”
The numbers are proof: if you stream it, they will come. But for Sparks and Johnston High School, livestreaming is only the beginning.
As the quality and quantity of livestreams grew, Dragon TV began broadcasting events with Hudl TV. Their website is a hub for families and fans to find information on school activities and upcoming broadcasts.
With Hudl TV and Production Truck software, schools can easily integrate pay-per-view options to supplement gate revenue. But Sparks says Johnston is seeing the most bang for their buck in sponsorship opportunities.
“Businesses in the community have been eager to be part of our stream,” he said. “There are two major ones that have put in some good funds to help us. We even had one that reached out to us and said they would like to advertise.”
Revisit that for a second: a local business reached out to the school to be a sponsor, not the other way around. No cold calls. No PowerPoint presentations. No flyers.
Instead, Dragon TV brought in additional revenue for the JHS athletic department by simply offering a livestream.
However, Sparks believes the potential is there for the school to bring in a substantially higher sum if they started proactively contacting potential sponsors.
“If we actually went out and talked to the businesses…I think we could really bring in some funds.”
Focus as the Foundation
Hudl Focus cameras are key to Johnston broadcasts. The smart camera uses AI technology to automatically follow the flow of the game from one end of the court or field to another. It captures all action without requiring a camera operator.
And with total Hudl integration, coaches and teams get the video they need at the same time Sparks is livestreaming directly through the school’s website.
“We’ll have between four to seven cameras for a game,” Sparks said. “We use the Focus camera as the main camera because it goes back and forth, and then use other cameras for instant replay and things like that.”
By having the main feed handled automatically, Sparks and his crew have an extra pair of hands at the ready to ramp up the quality of the livestream.
The Dragon TV production team—which consists of five to six students per event—has used that freedom to experiment with on-field coach and player interviews, play-by-play and color commentary, and more.
Hands-on Learning for JHS Students
For Johnston High School, livestreams are a team effort.
The results are higher-quality broadcasts that provide JHS students with real-world experience in a growing industry. One choice the school made was to pay students to run Dragon TV using money from sponsorships. It incentivizes students to join and stay with the production team but isn’t mandatory. Students are building skills that set up them for the future.
In fact, Sparks said that over the years, Dragon TV alumni have gone on to attend college with broadcasting dreams in mind, both on camera and behind it.
“I have five kids that are doing it in college because of this. I have someone in Iowa State that is doing the same stuff [at the college] level. I have one that’s working for PBS, filming with cameras and everything else. I have a couple of kids in broadcasting. It’s good experience.”
Meanwhile, Sparks asked classes for help to equip his students with the resources they needed.
He resourced the network logo from a marketing class. He asked the shop class to build platforms to use in the gym and the auditorium so his team could see over any spectator’s heads.
Dozens of students and faculty have had a hand in making the productions what they are today. And for good reason: the streams connect families and fans, strengthening the bond between the school and the community.
Strong Signal, Stronger Community
Dragon TV livestreams reach thousands of viewers every week. Families, fans, peers, businesses, and more tune in week after week, event after event to support Johnston students.
“I hear over and over again from families that their grandma, grandpa, aunt, sister and brother actually can watch us play now. There’s value in it that keeps the family tight and involved together. The families get to watch whatever sport it may be or show choir and band concerts. It keeps growing.”
But it’s not just central Iowa tuning in. The streams are viewed all over, including the Rocky Mountains and even across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I know we get people from all around the world. One of the assistant coaches for basketball, her parents live in Colorado. They were here visiting a game and came up to me, gave me a big hug. I didn't even know who it was. They thanked us for doing this.
Last year, we had a parent that was in the military deployed overseas watching all of her daughter’s basketball games.”
That goes far beyond the learning experiences, past the added revenue. JHS livestreams connect the entire community in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
“It’s rewarding to hear. Anytime I get an email or something I let all my kids know that are a part of streaming: It’s being watched and it’s appreciated.”