Northeast Times

SFBN bringing high school athletics to life

  • On the mic: Ari Bluestein (left) is the CEO and play-by-play commentator for the Sports Fan Base Network (SFBN), which broadcasts Philadelphia-area high school sports games. At right is Jack Kapp, Bluestein’s uncle and a veteran high school referee. SFBN’s broadcasts can be watched live or on demand on computers, smart phones or tablets. PHOTO COURTESY OF SFBN

  • Crew chief and main cameraman Marc Indelicato gets set up to broadcast a football game. PHOTO COURTESY OF SFBN

  • Director Josh Bellman hard at work during a SFBN football broadcast between Penn Charter and Germantown Academy. PHOTO COURTESY OF SFBN

  • Ari Bluestein (left) and Jack Kapp prepare to broadcast the PIAA District 12 football championship doubleheader at Northeast High School. PHOTO COURTESY OF SFBN

  • The crew: (Left-right) Marc Indelicato, Jack Kapp, Ari Bluestein, Josh Bellman and Lyle Boden make up the majority of SFBN, which began broadcasting high school games online in August 2012. Not pictured: Bellman’s cousin, Julian, who serves as a broadcast engineer. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

When Ari Bluestein was play­ing base­ball at North­east High School in the early 2000s, he no­ticed something was miss­ing. Why, he wondered, were so few me­dia out­lets vis­ible on the high school sports scene when these games and stu­dent-ath­letes de­served to be seen by the masses?

A dec­ade later, Bluestein and a few of his close friends have made watch­ing Phil­adelphia high school sports a real­ity with the cre­ation of the Sports Fan Base Net­work (SF­BN), an on­line sports net­work that al­lows in­ter­ested view­ers to watch games the net­work cov­ers live or on de­mand on their com­puters, smart phones and tab­lets.

SF­BN was an idea that ger­min­ated in April 2012 when Bluestein, a Rider Uni­versity gradu­ate who was serving as a ra­dio com­ment­at­or for the Drexel Uni­versity wo­men’s bas­ket­ball team, and close friend Josh Bell­man de­cided they wanted to be the ones to broad­cast high school ath­let­ics in the area. The two gradu­ated from North­east to­geth­er in 2002, and with Bluestein’s game-call­ing ex­per­i­ence and Bell­man’s film and me­dia arts back­ground at Temple Uni­versity, they thought they might just have a concept that could catch on.

They were right.

“It’s something I al­ways wanted to do … when I played base­ball, I wanted something like this,” Bluestein said. “I felt high school sports needed to be covered more. It’s a huge mar­ket.”

“There were only a few months between the idea and our first broad­cast,” ad­ded Bell­man, who co-owns a video­graphy com­pany with his cous­in. “The idea happened, we said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and we just did it. It happened that quickly.”

Through net­work­ing, Bluestein was able to set up meet­ings with school dis­trict and high school ath­let­ic of­fi­cials (Robert Cole­man in the Pub­lic League and Joe Sette in the Cath­ol­ic League), and SF­BN was even­tu­ally giv­en a one-year con­tract with­in the Pub­lic and Cath­ol­ic Leagues to broad­cast their games on the net­work. The first broad­cast, a foot­ball game between Ben­s­alem and Arch­bish­op Wood in Au­gust 2012, was aired with just Bluestein, Bell­man, a laptop and cam­era in­volved. It was not without its flaws, but the broad­cast went well enough to con­tin­ue on­ward.

“Now, we’ve got two car­loads of equip­ment,” Bluestein said.

With the growth of SF­BN came an in­crease in both per­son­nel and equip­ment. Bluestein and Bell­man soon ad­ded Marc In­del­ic­ato, a high school friend and freel­ance film­maker, as crew chief and main cam­era­man; Jack Kapp, Bluestein’s uncle who has dec­ades of ex­per­i­ence as a high school ref­er­ee, to provide col­or com­ment­ary; Lyle Boden, Bluestein’s broth­er-in-law and part own­er of a video­graphy com­pany, as mu­sic dir­ect­or and an­oth­er cam­era­man; and Josh’s cous­in, Ju­li­an Bell­man, who serves as en­gin­eer while Josh dir­ects the broad­casts. All are North­east nat­ives.

SF­BN star­ted with foot­ball and quickly spread to broad­cast­ing soc­cer, bas­ket­ball, base­ball, soft­ball, vol­ley­ball and ten­nis, to name a few. They star­ted solely in the Pub­lic and Cath­ol­ic League (where they gained ad­di­tion­al two-year con­tracts through 2014), but have since began spread­ing to the Inter-Ac and sub­urb­an leagues, as well as some col­lege and mis­cel­laneous events. As the com­pany has ad­ded more per­son­nel and equip­ment (they now have up to four cam­er­as set up at dif­fer­ent vant­ages), their repu­ta­tion has grown. With pro­fes­sion­al-style broad­casts, more and more schools are in­quir­ing to get SF­BN to cov­er their games. The net­work also sells DVDs of its broad­casts, which have been pop­u­lar amongst stu­dent-ath­letes and coaches for re­cruit­ing and scout­ing pur­poses. Broad­casts fea­ture play­er and score­board graph­ics, ori­gin­al mu­sic from Boden and com­mer­cials from spon­sors.

“We’re al­ways look­ing to im­prove our op­er­a­tion and the ac­tu­al broad­cast,” Bluestein said. “Look­ing back now to the be­gin­ning, the way we op­er­ate and the way it looks now is just night and day.”

Three games in­to the 2013 foot­ball sea­son, SF­BN already had more live views than it did com­bined in 2012. The growth has been “ex­po­nen­tial and as­tro­nom­ic­al,” Josh Bell­man said. The crew typ­ic­ally ar­rives two to three hours be­fore game time to scout loc­a­tions and max­im­ize pre­par­a­tion. What makes this fun and ful­filling, the crew said, is that they get to com­bine their pas­sions in­to one big mish­mash while both help­ing stu­dent-ath­letes and work­ing with close friends.

“My fa­vor­ite part is talk­ing about what we can do to make it bet­ter after each broad­cast,” Bell­man said. “ ‘This looks good, but what if we do this next time?’ The tech talk is what I really like. Every game is dif­fer­ent. Sit­ting down and prob­lem solv­ing keeps us go­ing.”

“We all have oth­er jobs, but this is where our pas­sion lies,” In­del­ic­ato said. “We get to ser­vice people who don’t usu­ally get cov­er­age, and I get to do what I went to school for while work­ing with a great bunch of guys. Who wouldn’t want to work with their best friends all the time?”

Kapp, the eld­er states­man of the crew, has fit right in with the young­sters.

“I’m older than these guys, but I just love high school sports,” he said. “I’ve been in­volved in them my whole life, start­ing when I played back in the ‘60s. I’ve al­ways been im­mersed in them. To be able to be in­volved in this, to try to rep­lic­ate what you see on TV while see­ing great play­ers com­pete … that’s the as­pect that I love. It’s a lot of fun.”

“All of the jobs we have out­side of SF­BN, those spe­cial abil­it­ies al­low us to con­trib­ute in dif­fer­ent ways,” Boden ad­ded. “All of these guys are well-roun­ded. People are start­ing to get to know us and re­cog­nize the work we do. They’re catch­ing on. As an ath­lete grow­ing up, I know I would have been mo­tiv­ated to play harder know­ing I could tell someone to watch me do­ing what I love most. For that reas­on, I see a lot of ad­vance­ment for the fu­ture.”

As of now, SF­BN is still evolving. The crew isn’t mak­ing any money yet, but hopes for fu­ture ex­pan­sion could lead to more rev­en­ue (they said they’d like to even­tu­ally have mul­tiple crews sim­ul­tan­eously call­ing dif­fer­ent games as they con­tin­ue spread­ing out in­to the sub­urbs and even New Jer­sey). At the mo­ment, it’s a labor of love, and the ful­fill­ment the crew gets su­per­sedes any mon­et­ary mo­tiv­a­tions.

Each mem­ber marveled at how much SF­BN has grown in just un­der two years, all stem­ming from that first phone call between Bluestein and Bell­man.

“It’s funny how that one phone call changed everything,” Bell­man said. “I’ve known Ari my whole life, since preschool, and to be able to work with him and my friends do­ing what I love and keep my mind work­ing, that’s what I like the most.”

“My life would be less hec­tic without SF­BN, but I love every as­pect of it,” Bluestein ad­ded. “I get a front row seat to see­ing some of the best play­ers in the area. I get to talk about that and get ex­cited over a mem­or­able call. To be able to do that is awe­some. We’re do­ing something good that I think can grow in­to something great. We all love do­ing it, and if we can work it out in­to a busi­ness, that would be the goal. I think it can really work.” ••

To learn more about SF­BN or to see the up­com­ing broad­cast sched­ule, vis­it www.sports­fan­base.com. To see if SF­BN can cov­er your game or to pur­chase a DVD of a past road­cast, email thesf­bn@gmail.com.

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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