SFBN bringing high school athletics to life

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.

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

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

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