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‘If you can’t be there, be here': Oklahoma high school football streaming broadcasts on the rise in age of COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school streaming broadcasts on sites such as oksportsnet.com have become a vital option for families and friends wanting to see their team play while sitting in the safety of their homes. [OKLAHOMAN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION]
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school streaming broadcasts on sites such as oksportsnet.com have become a vital option for families and friends wanting to see their team play while sitting in the safety of their homes. [OKLAHOMAN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION]

Kirk Norman and the Carl Albert broadcast crew entered Gary Rose Stadium with their equipment in hand.

One laptop, a camera, mixing cables and microphones that all fit into a medium-sized box.

Norman, the play-by-play man, was accompanied by color commentator Brayden Conover and two production students. Together, the crew was slated to do a pregame show, a halftime show and a post-game show, not to mention broadcast the game.

It sounds like a hefty task, but the crew made it look effortless.

A little over an hour after the broadcast team arrived in the press box, they were live on oksportsnet.com. And As Carl Albert scored its first touchdown of the season — Norman let the viewers know with an emphatic call.

“Touchdown Carl Albert!” he growled into the microphone.

It’s a small crew and a small setup that has partnered with the Oklahoma Sports Network, but it’s an effective one nonetheless. And the attention the broadcast is producing during the COVID-19 pandemic, solidifies it.

Last year's streams had between 400 and 700 viewers. This year, the first broadcast had between 4,500 and 5,000.

"So, 10 times as much as last year on average," Norman said.

And it’s not just Carl Albert and the 11 other Oklahoma Sports Network partnered high schools that are noticing spikes in its streams.

With many high schools in the state selling a limited number of tickets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school streaming broadcasts have become a vital option for families and friends wanting to see their team play while sitting in the safety of their homes.

Adam Diesselhorst, Skordle’s marketing director, said he’s seen an average increase of 20-25% in viewership of the streamed games on Skordle’s app.

“A school like Cashion, who’s pretty good at football, they’re going to average around 5,000 total viewers per event,” Diesselhorst said. “which is pretty wild for a town that probably has 900 people.”

Along with the growing viewership, the pandemic has inspired many schools around the state to form broadcast crews of its own to assist with getting the games broadcasted to fans who can’t attend.

Skordle began its school streaming platform last fall with five schools. Since then, the number of schools streaming its games has jumped.

“As of today, we have 40 plus streaming schools,” Diesselhorst said on Tuesday. “We had a lot of interest last spring, and then COVID-19 struck and a handful here and there have kind of decided to go ahead and do it.

"Since the first of August, we’ve signed up schools every week.”

Skordle builds its clients their own platform and website on which to stream. Along with the virtual equipment, Skordle provides the physical equipment for the schools, such as cameras, stands and a laptop, which is paid for by ad revenue splits with the schools.

It’s a broadcast that can be effectively produced by a small crew and easy enough to be used by students. In its first season with the equipment, for example, Stilwell High School has a broadcast team of just two, athletic director Ron Littlejohn and 16-year-old sophomore Chaylon Putnam.

“It was something I always dreamed of when listening to OU radio and Toby Rowland,” Putnam said of calling football games. “I was just excited for the experience.”

When Stilwell, only about 10 miles from the Oklahoma-Arkansas border, played its season opener, Littlejohn handled the play-by-play in the first half. But after halftime, Putnam received the microphone.

He turned out to be a natural talent.

“I thought it would be difficult, to be honest with you,” Putnam said. "But once I got on the mic, it just came to me, my knowledge of the sport, and I was just talking really. I wasn’t even thinking about calling a game. I was just thinking about it as if I was watching it.”

Ada athletic director Bryan Harwell was blown away by how easy it was to stream the school’s football games. That became apparent when the school’s broadcast equipment arrived less than 12 hours before the first game. That evening, Ada alum Ryan McCortney along with current students David Anderson and Mack Weems were at the stadium, calling the action with teaching sponsor Chris Eckler overseeing the broadcast.

“I’ve had several compliments throughout the community,” Harwell said about the broadcast. “We could not have asked for it to have been any better. I’m so happy that we’ve decided to do this.”

Skordle’s easy, accessible setup was recommended by Michael Swisher.

Since 2014, Swisher has streamed Kingfisher High School football. He’s sprinkled in some baseball and basketball. But because of his experience and history — six years is forever in the world of streaming — Swisher was seen as a pioneer by Skordle.

It's something he never would have imagined.

“At the core, I’m a newspaper person,” Swisher said. “So, radio or some form of play-by-play was nothing I ever aspired to do. I just had to start doing it because I didn’t have anybody else to do it.”

The Oklahoma Sports Network, Skordle, and Michael Swisher Media’s broadcasts are all paid for by sponsors and advertisers, allowing viewers to watch for free.

Live streams are such an accessible tool for schools and a viable option for fans — and with the unpredictability of a pandemic, they have become as much a part of Friday night as marching bands and cheerleaders.

“‘If you can’t be there, be here’ is what I tell them and point to our website,” Swisher said. “Because we’re going to make it happen for you.”

Related Photos
<strong>Adam Diesselhorst, Skordle’s marketing director, says “a school like Cashion, who’s pretty good at football, they’re going to average around 5,000 total viewers per event." [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Adam Diesselhorst, Skordle’s marketing director, says “a school like Cashion, who’s pretty good at football, they’re going to average around 5,000 total viewers per event." [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ba5b0f86a9c1274ba211f7eaf804ddcc.jpg" alt="Photo - Adam Diesselhorst, Skordle’s marketing director, says “a school like Cashion, who’s pretty good at football, they’re going to average around 5,000 total viewers per event." [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Adam Diesselhorst, Skordle’s marketing director, says “a school like Cashion, who’s pretty good at football, they’re going to average around 5,000 total viewers per event." [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Adam Diesselhorst, Skordle’s marketing director, says “a school like Cashion, who’s pretty good at football, they’re going to average around 5,000 total viewers per event." [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3e1e118bedc92d1c24ea5f7038abcfd6.jpg" alt="Photo - Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school streaming broadcasts on sites such as oksportsnet.com have become a vital option for families and friends wanting to see their team play while sitting in the safety of their homes. [OKLAHOMAN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION] " title=" Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school streaming broadcasts on sites such as oksportsnet.com have become a vital option for families and friends wanting to see their team play while sitting in the safety of their homes. [OKLAHOMAN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION] "><figcaption> Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school streaming broadcasts on sites such as oksportsnet.com have become a vital option for families and friends wanting to see their team play while sitting in the safety of their homes. [OKLAHOMAN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION] </figcaption></figure>
James Jackson

James D. Jackson joined The Oklahoman in January 2020 to cover high school sports. He a University of Central Oklahoma graduate. During his time at UCO, James served as a sports reporter and Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Vista.... Read more ›

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