Pack Network Helps Non-Techies Stream College Sports

By Carolyn Braff

At many mid-major colleges, the barrier keeping the athletic department from riding the streaming wave is simply learning to use the necessary equipment. For those schools located in the northeast, the one-year-old Pack Network provides a flexible, affordable lifeboat.

K.J. Cardinal and Adam Polgreen devised the Pack Network two years ago, while working as sports information directors at their alma mater, Northeastern University.

“We wanted Northeastern to be our guinea pig on the streaming stuff,” Cardinal explains. “They enabled us to test out a lot of different things and gave us some legitimacy.”

When Cardinal became the assistant commissioner of the America East Conference, Polgreen moved into Northeastern’s web services division and began testing the equipment the two had been discussing. One year later, Northeastern was the Pack Network’s first client.

Neither Cardinal nor Polgreen has any broadcast training, but that is the idea behind their business model.

“We don’t have any traditional television equipment and we only have about $30,000 worth of gear,” Cardinal explains. “From working in sports information, we’re used to not having budgets, so we figured out how to do it on the cheap.”

The Pack Network’s webcast system – the PackCast – is designed so that any member of the sports information office can learn, in about two hours, how to produce and stream a four-camera broadcast.

“You don’t need a $15,000 camera to do web production,” Cardinal explains. “We’ve found the necessary expensive pieces to purchase and we can set up all of our equipment in three spots on press row.”

For character generation, for example, the PackCast pulls pre-made graphics straight from Adobe Photoshop.

“The graphic element is done in advance and then the text is done live during the game,” Cardinal explains. “We’re using programs that people can go out and purchase on their own, but the general person isn’t going to be able to set up our exact system, so we package everything together.”

For the Pack Network, however, teaching clients how to use the equipment is just as important as selling it. As former Sports Information Directors (SIDs), Cardinal and Polgreen both know how overworked their clients can be, so they have trained students, graduate assistants and other staff members at Northeastern, University of New Hampshire and University of Maryland Baltimore Country how to set up the PackCast equipment and produce a game.

“I can sit down with someone and I can guarantee that you can do a four-camera production,” Cardinal says. “But to take it to the next level, you have to have somebody who’s a specialist. For the higher-quality productions, if you really want multiple angles, replays, stats and graphics, Adam and I are both going to the game as the producer and director.”

In addition to consulting and producing, the Pack Network has its own server that can handle Web streams for up to 100 people. Because so many of the nation’s universities are locked into streaming contracts with their web content providers, demand for the Pack server is low, making the 100-person limit the perfect size for events like May’s Northeast Conference softball tournament.

The Pack Network celebrated its one-year anniversary on June 1 and in its first 12 months, the company’s top two clients streamed nearly 200 events, ranging from hockey games at state-of-the-art arenas to crew races on the Charles River.

The productions ranged in price from $3,000 to $600 per event. By comparison, a traditional television broadcast for a mid-major conference costs upwards of $25,000, so Cardinal sells his clients on the advantages of making 10 times as many events available, at comparable quality, for the same price point.

“If only 500 people are going to watch your women’s basketball game on TV anyway, why not pay us a tenth of that price for the production?” Cardinal explains. “It will be available live online, so anybody in the world can watch it, which eliminates the trouble of getting television clearances. You can also provide an archive, so your impact is far greater.”

The Pack Network relies on flexibility and affordability to build custom streaming solutions for the mid-major market, and that combination has produced a highly successful first year in business.

“People don’t expect good production quality from streaming video yet, but they should,” Cardinal says. “Next year people will start saying, we need to make this a better production, and that’s where we can help. We’ve been busier in year one than we probably even wanted to be.”