HARRISBURG — Members of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters on Wednesday advised state lawmakers on the merits of a bill that would eliminate exclusivity clauses in contracts for the rights to broadcast or live-stream high school sporting events.
However, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s position is that the bill is flawed and risks undermining local control over athletic competitions and facilities.
The broadcasters say hundreds of Pennsylvania school districts have signed deals with a subscription-based statewide streaming service, NFHS Network, to stream sporting events live online — many did so as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person attendance.
Their problem, according to members speaking before the House Education Committee, is that contracts with NFHS included – in some cases unknowingly – exclusivity clauses that ultimately threatened to freeze local radio and television partners who had longstanding ties with the schools. The alternative for fans and parents of athletes has been to buy a subscription to watch an away game. Current NFHS plans are $11.99 per month or $79.99 per year.
“We have no problem with national streaming contracts. We just want to be able to be in the dressing room and compete and stream,” said Brian Mroziak, general manager, WMBS Radio, Fayette County. “We just want the possibility of coexistence.”
House Bill 2074, introduced by Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, would overrule exclusivity agreements. The proposal aims to allow local broadcast partners of host schools to broadcast or live stream away games, regardless of the home team’s own arrangements. She remains on the Board of Education.
Broadcasters are taking shelter to broadcast and live stream regular season events. They acknowledged that playoff rights belong to the high school athletic districts and, when it comes to state playoffs, the PIAA itself.
With just days left in the House and Senate legislature, the bill — like so many other bills — has little prospect for the current session. If there are no measures, it would have to be reintroduced and reconsidered in 2023.
The National Federation of State High School Associations is the umbrella organization of the PIAA and similar organizations in other states. And it is a partner organization of the NFHS Network.
Melissa Mertz, associate executive director of the PIAA, estimates that 200 of the PIAA’s 700 member schools contract with the NFHS Network. Some deals, she said, date back to 2013. The platform offers an online subscription service for multiple sports, she said, not just popular sports like soccer and boys’ basketball.
Both sides expressed mutual respect during Wednesday’s committee meeting and confirmed an ongoing working relationship to seek solutions.
“The NFHS network has heard concerns from schools and the media about exclusivity deals. They completely changed their model and now let the governing school decide what’s best for their programs, their students, and their tax-paying community,” Mertz said.
Mertz said some schools earn $5,000 or more in revenue from the broadcast deals and that the funds are reinvested in school athletic programs such as purchasing uniforms. Joe Conti, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, said he knows of three schools that collectively made just $1,200 in one year.
While Mertz said facility logistics presented obstacles and posited that some schools could not accommodate more than one station in a press box, none of the broadcast officials said it was a problem.