Introduction: How to Live Stream a Sporting Event
Our football (aka gridiron) team at Pulaski Academy (PA) is known for their unique playing style: they never punt on fourth down, and they almost always go for a 2-point conversion instead of kicking a field goal. This has caused a lot of interest in the program. We've had ESPN do feature stories several times and HBO Real Sports twice. The point is: lots of people want to see the team play.
PA is a small, private, college preparatory academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. So when one of the coaches wanted to start a live stream of the games, the trick was to do it with the equipment we already had. Really, there was no official decision to support this - which meant the project had no funding.
In this article, I'll explain what you'll need to create a basic live stream of your team's next game.
Step 1: Internet
Probably the most obvious necessity, is a solid, reliable Internet connection. Any high-speed (DSL, cable modem, fiber, etc) connection will do fine. Once you have Internet in your press box, you'll probably need to connect it to a router.
The speed of wireless routers can vary greatly depending on the version of the 802.11 standard that it uses. The implementation version is the letter or letters after 802.11 on the router's box (e.g. a, b, n, ac).
- 802.11b: up to 11 Mbps
- 802.11a: up to 54 Mbps
- 802.11g: up to 54 Mbps
- 802.11n: up to 300 Mbps
- 802.11ac: up to 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps)
Keep in mind that these speeds are in optimum conditions. Any distance or surfaces between the transmitter and receiver will degrade the signal strength, and thus the connection speed.
If it's at all possible you should use a wired connection. A wired connection will be faster than a wireless connection, won't be affected by radio interference, and your connection speed will remain constant.
In many cases, you may have to use whatever Internet connection you can get and adjust your stream to fit in the bandwidth you're given. However in some cases, you may be in the position to select your Internet speed. If that's the case you'll need to decide at which resolution you want to encode your video. If your target audience is mostly watching on mobile devices over cellular signals, then you won't want to encode your video at 1080p at 60 fps. Conversely, if your target audience is watching the game at home on their 55 inch HD television, a stream running at 240p is going to look pretty crappy (yes, that the technical term for it).
If your Internet connection's speed has been chosen for you, use the table below to help you choose the resolution that you can stream. Otherwise, use this table to choose your desired speed based on the resolution you want to stream.
|240p||426x240||0.3 - 0.7 Mbps||Least bandwidth usage, lowest quality|
|360p||640x360||0.4 - 1 Mbps||This will do if you are limited on bandwidth|
|480p||854x480||0.5 - 2 Mbps||Good option for most mobile devices|
|720p||1280x720||1.5 - 4 Mbps||Lowest high definition option; acceptable for home audiences|
|720p at 60 fps||1280x720||2.25 - 6 Mbps||Same as above, but faster framerate. Good for fast moving events.|
|1080p||1920x1080||3 - 6 Mbps||Highest resolution supported by YouTube. Most high definition TV shows display at this resolution and framerate.|
|1080p at 60 fps||1920x1080||4.5 - 9 Mbps||Same as above, but faster framerate. Good for fast moving events.|
Step 2: Hardware
Once you have your Internet connection sorted out, you can start putting together your equipment. First, you'll need a computer. I use a nondescript laptop running Windows. You can use a Mac or a Linux build if you want, but the software I describe in the next step is specific to Windows. The more processor and memory the computer has, the smoother your production will appear.
Next you'll need a camera. This could be a simple, cheap webcam that connects via USB. Note that inexpensive cameras will typically only support lower quality resolutions. There's no need to encode your video at 1080p if your webcam will only shoot at 360p; save yourself (and your viewers) some bandwidth and don't encode any higher than what your camera will support. At our games, we have a student who records the game from the top of the press box for the coaches' review. He uses a digital camcorder, so we just connect to the HDMI output of that camera and connect it to a game capture device, which connects to the computer via USB.
If you are going to have anyone doing play-by-play, you'll need a microphone for each announcer and an audio mixer. We have a pair of guys that do a radio broadcast of our games, and they allow us to connect to the auxiliary output on their mixer, which we use as the audio on our live stream. If you want to step it up a notch, you can use another microphone mounted outside to bring in some of the crowd noise and halftime performances. This really adds to the game-time experience for those watching at home.
Now that you have audio and video, you're ready to install some software that will really punch it up.
Step 3: Basic Streaming Software
There are many video streaming services on the Internet. Some examples are LiveStream.com, Ustream.tv, and YouTube.com. I use YouTube because it is the most popular, many people have the YouTube app on their devices, and it is free to use.
To live stream on YouTube, first login to YouTube with your Google account, then browse to the Live Stream Dashboard at https://www.youtube.com/live_dashboard. On this page, you'll find a Live Streaming Checklist on the right side of the page; this will lead you through all you need to prepare your live stream:
- Set up encoding software
- Add stream info
- Optional features
- Go live
The first item on the checklist is to "Set up encoding software". In order to send your broadcast to YouTube, you'll need some software that will encode your video. The option I use is Open Broadcast Software (OBS), which is open-source and free. The software is very easy to use, but is also limited in its capabilities. Check out the Quick Start Guide if you need any help. It has a preview feature that you should use before beginning your stream so you can become more familiar with the program.
The next item on the checklist is to "Add stream info". On the YouTube Live Dashboard, locate the encoder setup information at the bottom of the page. Enter those values in your encoder software. In OBS, this is found by clicking Settings, Settings, Broadcast Settings.
The optional features can be used to optimize your viewers' experience. For example you can enable DVR mode, allowing viewers to seek back up to 4 hours in the stream. You can also optimize the stream so that the viewers see the action as soon as it happens (best if you are going to do any social media interaction).
Now that you've configured all of your settings, you're ready to go live. You'll need to start streaming on your encoding software first. Once YouTube receives your stream, it will automatically start broadcasting. Depending on your Internet connection speed and the resolution at which you encode your stream, the broadcast will be delayed by 15-30 seconds typically.
Next, we'll add some features that make your stream look professional.
Step 4: Optional Software: Scoreboard
The one on-screen graphic that you always see during sporting events is a scoreboard. Your live stream wouldn't be complete without one. I'm sure there are several out there. If you find one you like, please leave a comment and let me know. But I have one that I just love: SunsetDev Software Solutions' Live.Score.
Live.Score can support several different sports. All you do is open the application, set up the scoreboard the way you want, set up a window capture source in OBS. When setting up the window capture source, be sure to set the chroma-key for the background color of the scoreboard application. When you define a chroma-key, you are telling OBS to ignore that color, making that area transparent.
The real power of Live.Score is that you can control it from an iPhone or iPad as long as they are on the same network as the encoding computer. We use an iPad so that someone else can keep up with the on-screen scoreboard while I worry about everything else in the broadcast.
Live.Score has two editions: the free Standard Edition (requires the iOS Remote Controls) and the Professional Edition with all features included for 899.00 €. The iOS Remote Controls are not free; you can purchase a Gameday Pass to unlock all controls for 24 hours for $5.99, or you can make a one-time purchase of any game-specific remote control which are $33.99 each. Since I only live stream one sport, I decided that the Standard Edition with the iOS Remote Controls for football was the best option for me.
Step 5: Optional Software: Social Media
The final piece of this puzzle is live fan feedback. Most people watching a sporting event have a team or a specific player of which they are a fan. So they will want to cheer them on during the game. By including those fans in your broadcast, you make them part of the event. Once they see that they can get their opinion on the broadcast, they have a little more buy-in to the overall product, and are more likely to watch your next broadcast.
We accomplish this by leaving a game-specific hashtag in the bottom-right corner of the screen, and occasionally featuring tweets with that hashtag on the screen. For example, if Pulaski Academy is hosting Hope High School, then I would use #HOPEvsPA. If PA is playing at Little Rock Christian Academy, then I would use #PAvsLRCA.
I wrote my own program to show the live fan feedback on the screen, and I'll soon be making it open-source and available for public use. You can follow the progress of TweetCaster at its Github page, and I'll update this article when it's available.
I set up a Twitter search using the game hashtag. As long as the tweet isn't disrespectful or vulgar, then I'll favorite it. The TweetCaster monitors my own account for any tweets that I favorite during the game and puts them in a queue. Then it periodically wipes onto the screen as a lower-third as seen in the photo.
Even without a program like TweetCaster, you can still include some live fan feedback. OBS has the ability to monitor FTP sites or text files for content, which you could use to manually copy and paste message you want to share.
Step 6: Conclusion
Each time I produce a live stream I learn something new, or I come up with a new idea that might be fun to try. I encourage you to experiment. Try new things. Find the hidden, seldom used features in some of these programs and come up with a excuse to try them.
Eventually you will have a top-notch live production that look like it cost far more than it really did.
If you find this article useful, please leave a comment and let me know.