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Lifting the Bar (TV) on community sport

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A love of community sport has certainly paid dividends for Josh Mason and his Newcastle-based broadcasting entity, BarTV Sports.

In fact, the media and production company, which specialises in live-streaming events – from rugby league to AFL and much more in between – is now an Australian phenomenon with sights set on global domination, too.

In just under a decade, the venture boasts thousands of subscribers throughout the country, as well as partnerships with the likes of Fox Sports, Kayo, Cricket Australia, Football Federation Australia, SANFL, NEAFL, NSW Netball, NSW Waratahs, Brumbies Rugby, QLD Touch Football and AFL Europe.

It’s hard to believe it all started back in 2013, via a Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) showdown.

“We did our first match then,” Mason said.

“Myself, Mark Priest and Brendan McCormick – my business partners who are still with me, along with Liam and Melissa Beckett.

“We’re all local guys.

“Believe it or not, Brendan, Liam and I all went to school together at St Francis Xavier’s College.

“However, we saw a niche market to broadcast community sport into pubs and clubs.

“It started as BarTV Bars – but it’s grown a little bit since then,” he added with a laugh.

Mason recalled the historic maiden fixture, which began the journey.

“I think it was between Kurri Kurri and Port Stephens,” he said.

“Back then, we used to get it [the game] on a DVD.

“Brendan and I taught ourselves how to edit it; we’d get it off a disc, put a scoreboard on it and play it.

“The first pub to televise the match was in Kurri Kurri.

“We went down on a Thursday night, after training, and the boys came in and watched in on the TV.

“The reaction [to it] was pretty fantastic; there was a bit of a buzz.

“The vision back then looks totally different to what it is today.

“But, the appetite was there.

“We’ve now developed cutting-edge graphics and video-highlighting technology.

“That provides instantaneous analysis for coaches or exposure for your competition through immediate, hassle-free social media video publication.

“We produce a lot of content under our own banner, such as from Gympie in Queensland to Ulladulla, which is our rugby league territory.

“We’re also very active in the ACT, South Australia and Western Australia.

“Then, we undertake material not under BarTV Sports, too, for broadcasters like Cricket Australia.

“It certainly keeps everyone busy.

“For example, through the thick of winter, we’re probably producing 300 games per weekend.

“That’s in excess of 3,000 matches for the four main sports throughout their respective seasons.”

Mason admitted the “rise and rise” of BarTV Sports caught them slightly off-guard.

BarTV Sport’s Josh Mason. Photo: Peter Stoop

“I think live-streaming was always going to be a big thing – and, especially sport,” he said.

“For us, we really built it around that.

“Logistically, we could see fixtures for 20 weeks [at a time] and put a plan in place, rather than doing more creative aspects.

“However, we always felt that connection with community sport, with the sponsors, and then friends, family and fans.

“So, in that respect, it’s grown a lot faster than we thought.

“And, the hunger now is from every age group up to seniors.

“It’s at that stage where it’s expected.

“It is ‘where can I watch this?’, even an under-6’s encounter, not ‘if I can watch it?”

But, the conversation continuously returns to BarTV Sport’s main theme: community sport.

Mason is unapologetic for it, too.

“It’s important to lift that profile of local content,” he said.

“And, to try to connect those clubs, sponsors and fans.

“While there’s a lot of free content, we’ve introduced a [pay] service now.

“However, for every subscription, we give back a fair portion – at least 50% – to the organisations and competitions.

“We kicked that off during COVID-19.

“That was a really massive moment for us, building a subscription offering.

“We’ve been running that for almost two years – and handed over at least $350,000 throughout Australia.

“At the moment, the East Coast and ACT are probably our two biggest regions.

“Group 7, on the South Coast, was the first to take it on, along with the Real NRL and Canberra.

“We try to equate a subscription as if you’re going to a game.

“So, if it costs you $2 or $5 to go through the gate, that’s the sort of portion that’s returned [if you subscribe].

“Through the pandemic, while friends and family lived afar, sport was still trying to chug along.

“That was the catalyst for us.

“Exposing it was great and having people watching it was fantastic, but the idea was always to make it cost-effective for the sports.”

To say Mason and his team are proud of what they’ve achieved would be an understatement.

“Keeping the guys and girls employed, and giving them something to work towards, is right up there,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“We obviously use a lot of camera operators, however we also provide pathways for production staff and commentators etc with universities and TAFE campuses.

“So, for me and my business partners, it’s nice to keep them in a job – and keep them in the community.

“Although we’ve expanded now, and we cover various codes throughout the nation, it’s still the same pockets of local people working on local sport.

“The other big thing is handing the money back – and there are some significant amounts – to community sporting organisations.

“We know every single cent counts.

“So, seeing that make a difference – whether it’s to upgrade a ground, put something towards canteen use and equipment, or allowing the competition to run after two very, very tough years – is incredible.

“On top of that, we’ve moved from one match a weekend to an entire round and every grade.

“Plus, we’re still covering the comps we started with; that means a lot to me.

“It’s a buzz to see some of the people, who we covered in our formulative years, now playing in the NRL or AFL as top-flight sports stars.

“That’s what we’ve loved.”

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