The Veteran Presence – The Horizon League Network:
Back before there was the Horizon League Network there was John Servizzi. The Butler graduate was experimenting with streaming the Bulldogs’ games on the Internet. At the same time, Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone was looking for a way to get more out of the conference’s Game of the Week broadcasts. Online streaming seemed like an option.
In 2006 WebStream Productions and Horizon League Network (HLN) were born. The online portal now provides a place for any Horizon League fan to catch conference and non-conference games. The site showed more than 450 events during the 2012-13 academic year and had more than 30,000 unique viewer streams.
“It’s become one of our chief marketing tools,” said Bill Potter, the Horizon League’s director of communications and new media. “From a marketing perspective we know that everyone around the country can find our games in one to two clicks. Coaches can tell parents, ‘You’ll be able to see your kids play.’ From a marketing, visibility, coaching and recruiting standpoint it’s been great for us over the past seven years.”
Servizzi is now the CEO of WebStream Productions, which is also working with the Missouri Valley Conference and Ohio Valley Conference. The Midwestern client base can be attributed to a corporate headquarters in Indianapolis. WebStream produces more than 1,000 streams annually.
“They’re great partners. There’s a trust that’s been built between their office and our office,” Potter said.
Throughout its entire history HLN has been a free service. It turns out that one of the hardest decisions a league has to make is whether its streaming will be free or have some sort of pay model attached. Potter said that internal discussions about making HLN paid come up, but that it would come at the cost of losing about half the league’s online audience.
“Initially we just wanted to expose it to as many people as possible,” Potter said. “From there once people caught on and they knew it was free and they liked that it was free, so we valued it more and more.”
HLN is still innovating. Their iPad application lets fans get to games almost instantly and has made the second screen an important viewing tool. The league has also embraced HD streaming. The rise in the numbers of online viewing options means every league must put out a top-notch product.
That includes the broadcasting teams as well. Most HLN basketball games rely on the home team’s radio broadcasters for audio. While it’s possible for away team fans tuning in to feel a little bias, Potter said that broadcasters have worked hard to be knowledgeable about both teams and that they use the technology to their advantage.
“What we’ve found is that our announcers, knowing that they are broadcasting both for a home and a road audience have really adjusted to being more neutral in their calls and they’re also using the HLN broadcast on their call as well,” Potter said. “It’s been another nice tool for our announcers and they continue to get better year in and year out.”
Put it all together and the Horizon League Network has become a model that other leagues are looking to follow as they move into online streaming.
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