The Chicago Bandits opened their second home stand last week at their new stadium in Rosemont, and already their numbers are growing.
Sure, their tickets and walk-up customers are up for the area's only women's professional softball team, but so are the numbers of visitors watching their games on their website.
The Bandits are making the games available, for free, online.
It's nearly like watching it on television, with four cameras catching all the action, a veteran play-by-play announcer, Mike Knezevich, as well as game interviews, instant replay and graphics.
But it's the people behind the scenes, producing and directing all the video content that is surprising: they're students from Bartlett, Streamwood and Elgin, all juniors at South Elgin High School, who are interning this summer with the Bandits.
“I really didn't know what to expect when they came in,” said Bandits General Manager Aaron Moore. “But they're very knowledgeable and have great equipment. So far, it's been great content.”
He got more good news last week from National Pro Fastpitch, which provides the channel for teams to offer live video streaming. Moore learned their first home stand drew 6,900 viewers, slightly more than 1,600 per game, which is their most ever.
The students met with their teacher, Ben Erickson, back at their home studio last week for a postproduction meeting. All four teens are enrolled in South Elgin's BEACON Academy, or Broadcast Education and Communication Networks. It opened in 2008 and students from across Elgin Unit School District 46 apply to be in it.
The Academy teaches broadcast communications, interviewing and writing skills, as well as how to operate cameras and edit video footage, all in the confines of their television and sound studios.
Already, the teens produce a 7-minute Beacon Broadcast report every two weeks that airs in the school, and will begin producing videos for community outlets as well as the school district.
Still, filming 21 professional softball games this season wasn't in their school syllabus.
“I've never filmed anything so fast-paced before,” said Mike Spenk, 16, of Bartlett, who mans the third baseline camera from on top of the visitors' dugout. “I'm really having to learn to anticipate the plays.”
Likewise, Mario Calero, 16, of Elgin, who works the camera behind the backstop, concedes that women's softball is new to him, but he knows what it takes to make an interesting broadcast.
He thinks they should incorporate more crowd shots and even weave in a personal tour of the new stadium into their overall package.
“I'd like to do close-ups of the artificial turf and let people know just how much better it is,” Calero said. “I just think that the more you show people what the stadium is like, the more they want to come.”
Andrew Giggey, 16, of Streamwood, directs each telecast. He works the control board in the press box, to determine which shot viewers are seeing, all while balancing the instant replays, graphics, crowd shots and game interviews.
“In one ear, I'm listening to the play by play guy, trying to match the video with what he's talking about,” Giggey said. “And I'm listening to other guys (cameramen) in the other ear.”
At the same time, he receives text messages from his teacher, who is watching remotely, and responding to messages from fans on Twitter. One fan tweeted that she wanted to see more of the pitcher's motions, so they adjusted the center field camera in response.
The instructional chairman of the BEACON Academy, Lisa Olsem, sat in on their post production meeting, and even she was amazed at the level of experience they're getting at these games.
“It's well into what they'd get in any type of college program,” Olsem said. “They're doing so well, that we get requests weekly from the community for these kids to help provide video.”
Erickson is convinced that most fans watching the Bandits' games online figure a professional producer is behind them.
“Just to be 16 and say that you're producing content for a professional franchise,” Erickson said. “It's an incredible opportunity.”