With high school sports limited to 100 people at the game site due to state restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there aren’t going to be many fans at contests this fall.
The 100-person limit for outdoor gatherings includes players, coaches, officials and school staff, which leaves little room for spectators. Some conferences and school districts are opting to eliminate the guesswork and not allow any fans.
But that doesn’t mean parents, family members and others who follow their high school teams won’t be able to watch games.
Northern Maine Media Inc./WHOU, and 92.9 The Ticket are going to help fill that void by providing live streaming of soccer and field hockey games.
Football and volleyball have been pushed back to 2021 because they have been categorized as higher-risk sports under the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Jim Churchill, brand manager for The Ticket, located in Brewer, has already worked out an agreement with Brewer High School athletic administrator Dave Utterback to live stream the Witches’ 15 home games, five each for girls soccer, boys soccer and field hockey.
Fred Grant, the owner and chief executive officer for Northern Maine Media Inc. in Houlton, has reached out to Aroostook County to offer live-stream coverage of their games. Veteran broadcaster Dale Duff is in the process of lining up games in the Bangor area.
There is still uncertainty because several school districts, including Bangor, have yet to approve fall sports after the Maine Principals’ Association announced last Thursday that soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf may be offered in the fall. The Bangor School Committee is expected to vote on sports in a special meeting on Thursday.
Games may be played starting Sept. 25 but the season ends on Nov. 14. Maine soccer and field hockey will have reduced, regionalized schedules and no playoffs.
Northern Maine Media and The Ticket are waiting for schedules to be released.
Some schools will provide their own live game feeds. Orono athletic administrator Mike Archer said a non-playing team member will provide a live stream using a laptop.
“We know how difficult it is going to be to limit it to 100 people at a game. So we’re looking to help out as much as we possibly can,” Grant said. “Our goal is to be able to provide as much coverage as we can. We’re gearing up right now.”
Grant has broadcast teams in place for games in Presque Isle, Fort Kent and Houlton and Duff will anchor the Bangor-area coverage.
Grant noted there will be games for which they have a live stream but won’t provide any broadcasters for play-by-play.
“We will hire someone to run the equipment for us,” he said.
WHOU subscribers will pay $10 a month to watch the games and it entitles them to watch all of the games on WHOU platforms across the state.
The radio station recently completed the first year of a three-year contract with the MPA to live stream high school basketball tournament games. Grant admitted the limited fan attendance will benefit their fall sports viewership.
“It will be very interesting to see how many are going to follow fall sports because there has been such a drought of sports [due to the coronavirus],” Grant said.
“We want to provide more and more coverage and invest in the future of broadcasting during this time of COVID.”
However, he also pointed out that to expand their coverage, he has bought a lot more equipment and its delivery has been delayed due to the volume of merchandise being purchased online.
“One of our biggest challenges is it takes eight to 10 days to get equipment we ordered on Amazon.com when it used to take two days,” he said.
Churchill said with the exception of the deal with Utterback, he is just waiting on the schedules to be released before they put together a further lineup of games.
The Ticket has in the past primarily provided live-stream coverage of football and basketball games in addition to its radio coverage but has never done so for soccer or field hockey games. The station has supplied radio coverage of soccer games.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s something new and different. It gives us a chance to spread our wings and branch out,” Churchill said. “We have a big crew and a lot of them have soccer and field hockey experience and backgrounds.
Churchill said The Ticket will work with any school that wants to have some of its games streamed. Their games will be available free as sponsors will be lined up to cover the costs.
“Live streaming is going to be crucial because we will be able to get the games out there to the public,” Utterback said.