Tony Harper is owner/operator of Indiana Sports Network, a division of Wabash Valley Sports LLC, which has been providing free webstreaming services of athletic events to fans for the past five years.
"Indiana Sports Network is web-tv for 80-85 high school and college sports events throughout southwestern Indiana" he said. "We cover games from Anderson to Indianapolis and Seymour west to Terre Haute and Evansville."
Harper, like other webstream owners and operators, is concerned about the possibility of high schools charging "rights fees" for the ability to cover games at their fields and gymnasiums. He mentioned how Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (MIC) members, starting this school year, will share a $500 fee from each outside webstreaming source that agrees to cover a specific game.
"All it takes is for somebody to do that and everybody else jumps on the bandwagon," Harper told the Tribune-Star last week. "They're talking about charging newspapers for coming in and covering an event too. ... [Some high school athletic directors] are just looking at grabbing some money is what they're doing.
"It's unfortunate because they don't understand marketing and branding and they've never had any training in it. It's one of those deals where they're cutting off their nose to spite their face. They're just going to get less coverage [because few, if any, media outlets would pay the fee]."
An online search revealed that the conference has a contract with the ISC Sports Network to broadcast MIC football, boys and girls basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball and softball, as well as other athletic events during the 2019-20 academic year.
The MIC consists of Warren Central, Center Grove, North Central, Pike, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, Ben Davis and Carmel high schools. Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South formerly were part of the MIC, but now they're members of Conference Indiana.
Meanwhile, Harper said Indiana Sports Network games can be seen and heard live on these social platforms — the BoxCast app, Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Chromecast plus Facebook Live and indianasportsnetwork.net.
Harper mentioned that he's encountered one high school that wanted to charge an $1,800 rights fee to broadcast from there and that was Evansville North. He said he politely declined.
"The guy at Evansville North told me this was the school board's policy," Harper explained, adding there was no way he would have considered paying it.
Harper believes some — definitely not all — high school administrators and athletic directors still go by the old-school thinking that live broadcasts negatively impact in-person attendance figures.
But he strongly insists the exact opposite occurs: The more media coverage is involved, the more community interest is generated for that school's teams.
"If [broadcasts] hurt the game, then the NFL and Major League Baseball and soccer and everybody else wouldn't have TV coverage," Harper said.
Charlie Karazsia — longtime athletic director at Linton-Stockton High School, which has captured conference and state titles in multiple sports in recent years — promised he has no desire to ever implement a rights fee to any Wabash Valley media outlet.
"We appreciate the coverage," he emphasized. "The guys I know [in other Valley schools' athletic departments], I don't think it's going to happen. No one needs money that bad where they need to charge the press to get in. You can do 50/50 drawings at ballgames to raise money."
Harper said if any other Valley high school does try to implement a rights fee, he'd leave the prep scene and focus his coverage entirely on college sports.
"The media would just walk away from covering the high schools," he predicted.
As the situation stands now regarding Valley high school coverage, Harper said: "I'm lucky if I break even [financially]."
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As of last Thursday, the Greene County Sports Network (GCSN) webstreaming service out of Bloomfield ceased to exist. Its owner and operator, 66-year-old Rick Hudson, couldn't even begin to think about paying a rights fee when it was broadcasting games for the past eight years.
A former coach and insurance agent, Hudson said the only time the fees subject ever came up around here was before the eight-team Greene County Invitational boys basketball tournament at the beginning of 2019.
"A couple of the principals and superintendents wanted to charge," Karazsia admitted. "And us athletic directors said, 'We're not charging.' ... We want as much press for our kids as possible. That's why we're here — to showcase our kids."
Hudson, who said most of GCSN's viewers came from Facebook Live, agrees with Karazsia's philosophy. He's even seen names of people viewing on Facebook Live who were sitting in the same gym and watching the same players as his broadcast crew.
"When the Linton Miners played at Paoli for the [IHSAA] boys basketball regional [in March 2019], we had over 20,000 views," Hudson said proudly. "And you couldn't have squeezed one more person into the Paoli gym from that Saturday night."
Plenty of those views, he discovered, originated from either disabled fans or "snowbirds," i.e. former Greene County residents who moved to Florida or the southern part of the country after they retired.
"Our biggest issue this year was we just didn't get enough of a response from sponsors," Hudson said about GCSN discontinuing.
So would he and his wife, Nancy, reconsider their decision if a Greene County business owner stepped forward with a significant check in hand?
"That would change things," Hudson acknowledged.