How local sports streaming is shaping the future

For some, it’s all about being the centre of the action. From kicking the winning goal in the Grand Final to clocking the winning runs on Day 5 at 5:30pm, the dreams of today’s kids are in abundance and only time will tell whether they will live out such fairy tales and become tomorrow’s heroes.

For others with considerably less sporting prowess, like this writer, we’re just content on watching history play out and maybe, just maybe, adding a little bit of our own spin to the occasion.

“Oh Jesaulenko, you beauty!” and “Leo Barry you star!” are quotes etched into Australian rules football folklore. In many cases, the calling of such poignant moments in history almost outshine the moment itself and are the catchcries of kids in the playground for years to come.

The Alex Jesaulenkos and Leo Barrys of the football world come and go, but the Mike Williamsons and Stephen Quartermains seem to stick around forever; those iconic voices becoming synonymous with the game of football. But eventually even they will have to call it a day. There’s only so many players that Bruce McAvaney can call “special”, or that Brian Taylor can butcher the pronunciation of their name.

Where does the next generation of commentators come from?

The advent of sports streaming is having a considerable impact on the future of sport not only at the professional level, but in local grassroots sport. Tomorrow’s on-field superstars are exposed to a wider audience than ever before, putting forward their hopes of one day gracing the national or even international stage. It’s also here where the commentators and media personalities of the future learn the game and hone their craft in the hope of one day cracking a similar level.

Michael Thompson is one of those who gave up on his dream of captaining Carlton to a premiership earlier than most – not only because Carlton haven’t looked anywhere near winning a premiership for the best part of 20 years, but because he has a passion for sports broadcasting. At 26 years of age he is still a young man in an old man’s game, but that hasn’t stopped him from trying to break down doors.

Thompson currently commentates National Premier League (NPL) Victoria soccer and the Melbourne Boomers in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). The only way this was an option for him was because of the desire of sports leagues to stream live over social networks like Facebook and YouTube.

“Sports streaming has started to get a bit more of a buzz the last couple of years. There’s a lot of people who want to go into sports broadcasting and commentating and it gives them the chance to not only learn but continue to hone their craft,” says Thompson.

“It’s absolutely the best place to start. There are always opportunities to do it through places such as Sportscast, Gameface and the NPL. I even speak to people from Basketball Victoria and NBL1 clubs who are looking for new commentators for next season.

“It doesn’t hurt to give it a shot.”

Thompson has been involved in sports media since his days at university but only began calling basketball this year. Already he has attracted interest in his work, being featured on the National Basketball League’s (NBL) social media highlights.

“The Josh Dive highlight reel from the first round of NBL1 that got picked up by the NBL social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all gave me a bit of love for that one. The NBL1 gave me a bit of love as well when Joel Speer hit an amazing three-pointer ‘from the carpark’ as Dwayne Russell would say,” Thompson says.

The quality of production on amateur sports streaming has only improved in recent years. Earlier in the decade, coverage of grassroots leagues would usually be confined to local community radio or a one-camera, low-quality stream without a scoreboard. In 2019, the likes of GameFace and the NPL all streamed multiple matches at the same time with live statistics, replays and commentators, with sponsors covering a portion of the costs.

Quality has improved so much that Foxtel-owned sports streaming service Kayo Sports have been picking up streams for host across their application. Thompson’s commentary of WNBL Melbourne Boomers matches have been co-streamed on the platform, exposing his talents to a wider audience and increasing his prospects of a job in the hard-to-crack industry.

“I commentate Melbourne Boomers games in the WNBL. They’re produced in association with Deakin University and the games are broadcast not only through the Boomers social media but also through Kayo Sports which is owned by Foxtel,” he says.

“It’s been a great opportunity to do that and get myself out there and continue to tighten and strengthen my career in broadcasting basketball. It’s only been new to me this year, but I’ve picked it up quite easily.”

For Thompson though, the end goal is still the traditional media. As accessible as streaming is, there’s just something special about reaching the masses through a major sporting event.

“Hopefully I can do a bit more radio stuff next year. It’d be a dream come true to eventually call basketball or A-League on a network.”

Sports streaming isn’t a niche thing anymore. Leagues from the depths of the Newcastle Men’s Netball Division 2 to the new nationwide Field Hockey League are streaming their matches live. If a fan can’t make the game, they no longer need to wait for Monday morning’s newspaper, the action is right there at their fingertips.

And while streaming figures are relatively unreliable compared to the official OzTam ratings system used in Australian commercial television, the basic numbers generally make handsome reading for the people who are involved in the streams.

In 2019, Football Victoria decided to stream all NPL Division 1, Division 1 Under 21, and Women’s matches along with a selected number of NPL Division 2 matches. The average number of people tuning in each week was 30,000 while 70,000 tuned in for an extended period of time for the Grand Final. The latter number eclipses most regular season A-League matches, showcasing the true power of streaming.

Other football federations around the country have followed suite, and the numbers are now being used to justify the lobby Football Federation Australia for the introduction of a national second-tier competition.

Not only are these organisations covering matches, but they’re producing original content that compliments match streaming and further exposes the next generation of sports stars and media personalities.

GameFace produce weekly match preview, review and variety shows for multiple football and netball leagues around Victoria. Hosts on these programs are often paid, which is a well-known rarity for those starting out in the media industry. Due to the large number of viewers and interactions these streams receive, sponsors are clamouring to jump on board, allowing talent to earn compensation for their performance.

These programs have created a greater sense of community within their respective leagues, and the exposure and direct connection to the regular person that these communities have has without a doubt led to an increase in sponsorship of local leagues and sporting clubs.

If a league doesn’t have a live stream in 2019, it’s definitely on the backfoot and up against it in terms of marketing and exposure. The successful country football Mornington Peninsula Nepean Football League has two different providers of live streams – GameFace provides one on a Sunday while local radio station RPP FM compliments their coverage with a live stream on Saturday.

As streaming begins to heavily influence the world of professional sport, it’s already taken over at a grassroots level. The next Dennis Cometti is already making niche references as Avondale Heights take on Bentleigh Greens. The next Neroli Meadows is roaming the boundary in the reserves clash between Hastings and Tyabb.

The next Anthony Hudson is watching the next Buddy Franklin kick goals in the NAB U18 League. Buddy might reach the top sooner, but Huddo’s career will outlast his. The next generation are certainly doing the hard yards, but sports streaming is making it that little bit easier for them.

Now to come up with an original catchphrase to finish this piece.

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