21 November 2020

Streaming Sports On A Shoestring

The 412 Comms Blog takes a look at how to produce a clean, professional-looking video stream for your scholastic or youth sports program, from equipment and software to the very ins and outs of game-day production — all with a skeleton crew and a modest budget in mind.

As a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, many scholastic and youth sports programs have taken to producing online video streams of sporting events in order to allow families, friends and alumni to stay connected through the fall sports season despite attendance being restricted. With a second wave tearing through North America and sports moving inside for the approaching winter season, streaming will be almost an essential component of any sports program.

How much will it cost?

What if I don't know where to begin? 

There's good news: With the technology we have in 2020, it's not that hard or costly to produce a clean, professional-looking video stream for your scholastic or youth sports program. This blog post will take you step-by-step through what you need to stream your team's games to family, friends and alumni scattered across the world — and how it all works. At the end, I'll build a sample rig from the ground up that looks nice, is not that expensive (apologies to the Knights Who Say 'Ni!'), and can have you streaming sporting events for under $2,500.

The Delaware Hockey Night command centre, including Windows computer running OBS, headset microphone, Focusrite Scarlett audio interface (in back), and X-Keys for scoreboard graphics operation
Of course, contact us if you'd like custom built graphics or further consultation to get the most out of your resources — whatever they may be.


Our Delaware Hockey Night streams are as involved as the manpower at our disposal will allow ... for instance, the 2020 Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League championship game between Liberty and Stony Brook involved two cameras, play-by-play commentary, and full graphics. Accounting for a switcher and a second camera is enough to push the project budget into an untenable range for most organizations, so we'll stick to a quality single-camera setup — which, frankly, is sufficient for most audiences — for this blog.

Here are the absolute must-haves, in terms of equipment:

Computer. A strong computer with fast processing power is the nerve centre for your stream. While OBS – the production software we use – is free and compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, the scoreboard software we use – live.score — is only compatible with Windows (more about the software later). As such, we recommend a dedicated Windows machine with at least 8 GB of RAM, along with ethernet and multiple USB ports. For our mobile setup, we use a Lenovo IdeaPad 330 (discontinued) that listed for $400 when we got it two years ago. It's a basic machine, but it more than does the job. As long as you have at least 8 GB of RAM, you'll have enough power. A couple options:

The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 is a worthy successor to our current mobile rig, and at $450, doesn't break the bank. The one downside is you'll need an ethernet adapter for hard-wired Internet connections.

For a little more screen real estate, HP makes a 17-inch laptop that ticks all the other boxes, too. At $630, it's a little step up in price and quality, but you really can't go wrong with either.

HD camera. High definition has become the broadcast standard in recent years, but as a result, HD cameras have never been easier to find or more affordable. We currently have two Sony FDR-AX100 "prosumer"-grade machines from the top end of their Handycam line (list $1,500), and couldn't be happier with the quality of the product and value for money.

When we first were developing the DHN video stream, we shot a couple games with the Canon VIXIA HF R800 (list $250), and while it got the job done, the much smaller lens didn't accept nearly as much light and the picture was grainy as a result.

Budget-conscious producers can split the difference in terms of price point, with Sony and Panasonic both offering something in the $500-$600 range. Canon has options on both sides of that price point, but aim higher on this item if your budget allows and scrimp elsewhere. It's worth it.

The step up in quality from Dad's handheld camcorder at last year's Thanksgiving dinner will be ample to stream sports in most settings. The camera is one piece of equipment where you really do get what you pay for, but the picture quality makes its biggest leaps with each step up on the lower end of the price scale.

HDMI/USB interface. In order for your computer to read and process your video signal, you'll need an interface to convert HDMI data to something your computer will understand. We've used a couple different interfaces, but the Epiphan is the gold standard in terms of speed and reliability. At $400, it's a smidge costlier than some other options, but it's absolutely the way to go.

Tripod. For a steady picture, you'll want to mount your camera to a tripod. And for smooth panning and tilting, you'll want to invest a little bit into a quality tripod head. Our main tripod head, the Promaster Cine CH60, ran us $120, but you can find something suitable that pans and tilts smoothly enough for half that.

Here are the maybes, if you want to add audio to your stream:

USB audio interface. There are lots of mixers and USB audio interfaces on the market, with each brand trying to outdo the last with the cleanest preamps or the latest bells and whistles, but for a simple sports stream, you don't need to get too fancy. The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is ample for about 95% of our applications, with two mic/line/instrument inputs and USB power. If you have one commentator, you can devote one input to their microphone and the other to an ambient mic to get game noise, etc. If you have two commentators, each one has their own input. It only runs $160, so it's a lot of power for very little financial outlay. For one mic input and one audio input, you can opt for the Focusrite Scarlett Solo for $50 less.

Headset mic. Your on-air talent will need a microphone, and if he's like me and doubling as producer while calling the game, a headset is immensely preferred. You'll want something with an XLR mic connector and a 1/4" headphone jack. I use either the Shure single-sided broadcast headset ($210) or the Sennheiser HMD 300 ($250) depending on the application, but B&H in the heart of Manhattan has a wide range of options at those price points and a little bit below.

Shotgun mic. To pick up the sounds of the game from far away, a shotgun mic is the best option. Our setup includes an Audio-Technica AT875R ($170), but there are many other solid options. Røde in particular makes high quality mics for film and broadcast as well that don't break the bank and work well in this application.

That accounts for all the equipment you'll have to lug into the gym or rink. Don't worry; it's not so much that one person can't carry it all. (I probably looked like a pack mule doing it, but I carried all of the above from Penn Station to Chelsea Piers on the west side of Manhattan for a University of Delaware hockey game last February!)


We talked about all the necessary hardware, but we need software on our computer to bring all the elements together and package it in a stream. Here's what you absolutely need:

OBS. I mentioned Open Broadcaster Software — or, OBS — briefly already, but didn't go into much detail about what it does other than being production software. It's an incredibly powerful program, and the best part of it: it's free! And once you get everything set up in advance, it's pretty easy to use on the fly.

OBS enables you to combine various audio and video elements — your camera and audio signals, for instance, along with graphic and text overlays — to make a collection of scenes that you can switch between during the stream. For instance, our "main" scene includes the camera, the live.score scoreboard graphic, and various lower thirds that we can switch in and out. Additionally, our setup includes an intro slate, graphics for league standings and line charts, and a full-screen score display for during intermissions and at the end of the game.

In the "Settings" dialog box, you can control your audio and video specifications, send your stream to your preferred service (YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitch, Periscope or Restream), and assign "hotkeys" to each scene or graphic element to enable you to switch between them rapidly and easily. There's a lot to OBS, but the learning curve is pretty darn quick.

live.score. If there's one graphic element that can elevate the quality of your stream, it's a scoreboard. German software engineer Christian Dangl has developed live.score specifically for this purpose, and the quality of the product is incredible for the price. You can license the software to generate score graphics for a wide variety of sports, and at roughly $55 (dependent upon euro/U.S. dollar conversion) for most single-sport packages, you won't find a better price or comparable product.

You can choose your desired scoreboard design for your sport's package, customize the colours and appearance, and control it through either the desktop controls (unwieldy but free), an iOS remote, or — the method I personally recommend — via an X-Keys keypad (from $140). This way, you can design your own scoreboard controller by mapping the most commonly needed tasks (new period, start/stop clock, increase/decrease score) directly to the keypad.

With a little practice, you can use the chromakey filter and window capture tool in OBS to display the score graphic on your stream, build and switch between multiple scenes, and present an attractive, informative production that's easy on the eyes and ears. Here's a look at the final product of our current stream setup:

To get you going even more quickly, or to give your stream an even higher level of professional polish, we can build you custom integrated graphics and OBS scene sets, as well as offer direct one-on-one consultation to help you achieve a high-quality stream. Contact us; we're more than happy to help you get going!

James' Recommended Stream Setup

You can frequently find good open-box deals on cameras and computers at B&H, Best Buy and your local camera store. These deals can either save you $100-$200 or help you achieve a higher quality end product for the same price as buying new.

Computer: Lenovo IdeaPad 3 - $449.99
Camera: Sony HDR-CX675 - $598.00
HDMI/USB Interface: Epiphan - $399.95
Tripod: Viltrox VX-18M w/Fluid Head - $140.00

Audio Interface: Focusrite Scarlett Solo - $109.99
Headset Mic: Sennheiser HMD 300 - $249.95

Scoreboard Software: live.score Single Sport Control - $53.67
Scoreboard Control: X-Keys keypad - $139.95

Accessories and Cables
USB Hub - $24.99
HDMI Cable - $10.99

Total (of the above setup): $2,197.47

Good luck, and good streaming!


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