Popularity of high school athletics spurs online businesses

Nearly 100,000 students in Wisconsin high schools are members of an athletic team. Those students have a fan base of parents, friends, other relatives, coaches and recruiters who want to read about them, see them play or scout their competition.

Some online companies, such as prepsonthenet.com and the Wisconsin Sports network, are tapping into that interest. Their web sites showcasing WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association) high school sports information and performances have boomed in popularity over the past couple years.

Steve Kearns, principal of www.prepsonthenet.com, launched his West Bend-based company last year. Chuck Nevsimal, Joe Menter, former Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl and former Green Bay Packers running back Ahman Green also are principals and financial backers for the company and assisted in

its formation.

The company currently has 25 employees, including three reporters who write all of the content on the web page, and 10 cars that are used for traveling across the state to cover high school sporting events. (The company’s talent pool includes former SBT contributing writer Judy Steffes.)

Prepsonthenet’s most unique feature is the ability to stream live video from any school that has a contract with the company. The feature allows for athletic competitions to be broadcast live over the internet for anyone to view.

“We wanted to give more back to the schools, if people can’t make it to the game or kids want to see other games, now they can tune into the site and watch it live or tape delayed,” said Kearns.

It costs nothing for schools to become a member of prepsonthenet.com, and approximately 110 schools are working with the company to have their games broadcast at the web site.

Preps on the Net provides all of the equipment needed for the live stream, including high-definition cameras, a laptop computer mounted to a tripod, all of the programming, the cables, and the bandwidth in which to operate.

“The only thing the school needs is an internet connection in the facility where they are filming,” Kearns said. “We set it up the first time, and teach them how to use it. We even have a fail-safe equipment program that tells them what exactly is wrong with the set up, and once it gets plugged in, it goes to our server, and it’s our bandwidth that everyone operates under.”

The company recently partnered with When We Were Young Productions out of Madison, which is licensed by the WIAA to broadcast all of the regional and sectional games in the state. Prepsonthenet now has the authority to broadcast those games as well.

“When We Were Young Productions places a $4 pay per view fee on each broadcast,” Kearns said. “A percentage of that fee goes to When We Were Young, to Preps, the WIAA, as well as the host school.”

According to Kearns, the company has already spent millions of dollars on the equipment and the bandwidth for the operation of the company.

Plans to set up a fee for year-round viewing of games on the site are in the works, but according to Kearns, it will still be a minimal charge with 20 percent of those earnings going back into the member schools’ athletic departments.

“It’s important that the funds go back into the athletic departments, because our biggest thing is when we went to school we were able to join any sport for free. Now, with budget cuts, many times athletic teams get shorted, and we want schools to keep their sports,” Kearns said.

The Wisconsin Sports Network’s (WSN) website (www.wissports.net) offers similar features for high school sports fanatics in Wisconsin. Nicholas Kartos, president and founder of the Monona-based company, said the boom in coverage of high school sports is a national phenomenon.

“Nationwide, the explosion of high school sports coverage is just going crazy,” Kartos said. “I think we are doing a good job of covering Wisconsin, but we will see where it goes from there.”

WSN’s coverage network is the entire state of Wisconsin. The web site is free to view, but a login is required to post on the message boards. According to Kartos, coaches have a login assigned to them so they are able to update their team information, rosters and statistics on the site.

“Just about all of the schools participate in the beginning of the year, but there is probably about 25 percent who update the site on a regular basis throughout the season,” he said.

Kartos provided all of the initial funding for Wisconsin Sports Network in 2002, but the company has since been acquired by TDS Telecommunications Corp. in Madison. WSN currently has five full-time employees who work as content creators, writers and web developers.

Wisconsin Sports Network started out covering mainly basketball and football in Wisconsin, but has added hockey and will feature baseball, softball and track in the spring. The site features, rosters, schedules, statistics, standings and highlight clips of all Wisconsin conferences. Wisconsin Sports Network also operates Wishoops.net and WisFootball.net and the print publications of the Gridiron Guide, a high school football yearbook, the men’s and women’s basketball yearbooks and Wisconsin Preps Illustrated.

Wisconsin high school sports on the net

•    www.prepsonthenet.com
•    www.wissports.net
•    www.wishoops.net
•    www.wisfootball.net

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