HARRISBURG, Pa. – Members of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters on Wednesday pitched state lawmakers on the merits of a bill that would eliminate exclusivity clauses within contracts for the rights to broadcast or livestream high school sporting events.
The position of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, however, is that the bill is faulty and risks undermining local control of athletic contests and facilities.
The broadcasters say that hundreds of Pennsylvania school districts signed contracts with a subscription-based nationwide streaming service, NFHS Network, to livestream sporting events online – with many having done so when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person attendance.
Their issue, according to members who spoke before the House Education Committee, is that the contracts with NFHS contained exclusivity clauses – in some cases, unknowingly – that ultimately threatened to freeze out, or did freeze out, local radio and television partners that had longstanding relationships with the schools.
The alternative for fans and athletes’ parents was to purchase a subscription to watch an away game. Current NFHS rates are $11.99 a month or $79.99 a year.
“We have no issue with national streaming contracts. We just want the ability to be able to be in the booth and be able to compete and to stream,” said Brian Mroziak, general manager of WMBS Radio in Fayette County. “We just want the ability to coexist.”
House Bill 2074, introduced by state Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, would override exclusivity deals.
The proposal seeks to allow local broadcast partners of visiting schools to broadcast or livestream away games, regardless of the home team’s own arrangements.
It remains in the House Education Committee.
The broadcasters seek protection to air and livestream regular season events. They acknowledged that playoff broadcast rights belong to high school athletic districts and, when it comes to state playoffs, the PIAA itself.
With few days left in the legislative session for the state House and Senate, the bill’s prospects – like those of so many other bills – are slim for the current session. If there’s no action, it would have to be reintroduced and reconsidered in 2023.
The National Federation of State High School Associations is the parent organization for PIAA and similar organizations in other states, and it’s a partner organization of the NFHS Network.
Melissa Mertz, associate executive director of the PIAA, estimated that 200 out of PIAA’s 700 member schools have contracts with the NFHS Network. Some agreements, she said, date to 2013. The platform offers an online subscription service for multiple sports, she said, not just popular sports such as football and boys’ basketball.
Both sides expressed mutual respect during Wednesday’s committee meeting and acknowledged an ongoing working relationship to seek solutions.
“The NFHS Network heard concerns by schools and members of the media regarding exclusive contracts,” Mertz said. “They have completely changed their model and now allow the contracted school to decide on what is best for their programs, their students and their tax-paying community.”
Mertz said some schools realize $5,000 or more in revenue from the broadcasting deals, and that funds are reinvested into school athletic programs, such as uniform purchases.
Joe Conti, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, said he was aware of three schools that combined to earn just $1,200 in a year.
While Mertz said facility logistics present barriers, positing that some schools couldn’t accommodate more than one broadcaster in a press box, none of the broadcasting representatives said that was an issue.