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Virtual Advertising

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Television contracts are an extremely lucrative source of income for professional sports leagues. The NBA’s most recent television contract was an 8 year extension worth approximately $930M per year. (source) The NFL’s current deal is worth approximately $8.8B, and is in discussions with ESPN to sign a 10 year extension worth approximately $2.2B per year. (source). MLB’s current contract is worth around $3B and the NHL’s deal is worth $2B. What does this mean? Well with television networks paying such extraordinary amounts of money for the rights to broadcast games, they must look to advertising dollars to try to recoup this expenditure. However, with the advent of recording systems such as TiVo and DVR, more and more television viewers are fast forwarding through commercials and advertisers are losing the power to market their brands and products on TV. Moreover, it would appear that if consumers are not watching commercials, that paying to produce and air advertisements may soon be seen as a non-cost-effective manner of advertising. Well in the sporting world one technological creation that has been s successful solution thus far and may be the answer advertisers are looking for to solve this problem. Enter virtual advertising.

Here you can see the spot on a field without the virtual advertising, and the same spot with a virtual advertisement

Virtual advertising is “the seamless insertion of digitized images into a television broadcast”. (source) More simply put, virtual advertising allows broadcasters to easily cycle through various advertisements on a certain are, like the plexiglass behind the goal in hockey or the wall behind home plate, where they are only visible to people watching games on TV. This allows advertisers to still have their image or messages seen during the game without having to worry about people fast forwarding through their commercials.

Virtual advertising is not a brand new invention, but it has been catching on more and more lately throughout collegiate and professional sports broadcasting. It was first seen in MLB telecasts during the 2001 World Series. (source) This technology has been catching on in both soccer and NHL telecasts as well. The NHL has been perhaps the

Here is a shot of a SUBWAY virtual advertisement during a NY Rangers hockey game

second most active user of this technology, first sprouting up in 2009 when Madison Square Garden began implementing it during Rangers games. Since then, more NHL teams and networks have begun utilizing virtual advertising as a new means of revenue. In addition to the New York Rangers, other teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals,and the Columbus Blue Jackets are now using virtual advertising. These teams are selling advertising “space on the glass behind the two goals and, in New York, an additional spot between the team benches at Madison Square Garden”. (source)

The use of virtual advertising has turned out to be a very worthwhile means of generating revenue teams as well as the networks broadcasting the games. For instance, the Philadelphia Flyers charges $3,500 per advertiser per game, and pays around $2,700 per game in production costs to operate the virtual advertising system. (source) This year, the Flyers first year using virtual advertising, the team expects to generate just over half a million dollars from its virtual advertising endeavor. (source) Companies are always searching for ways to be visible to the public and to get its messages out to the masses. Virtual advertising gives brands a new avenue to be seen during sporting events without the worry of consumers fast forwarding through its commercials and missing the advertisements. This increased exposure has been catching on throughout sports broadcasts, and it appears only a matter of time until all professional and collegiate sporting events will be adopting virtual advertising, and the brands will be all too eager to capitalize upon this new marketing venue.

Here are a few more screen shots from sporting events utilizing virtual advertising:

bcit.ca virtual advertisement during a Vancouver Canucks game

Coca-Cola ad superimposed during a MLB telecast

SPORTSNET Central virtual advertisement superimposed during a Capitols game

Green Turtle virtual ad as seen during a Detroit Red Wings broadcast

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FoxTrax Puck Tracking Failure

April 24, 2011 1 comment

So far this blog has discussed how ICT related advances have changed the sports industry and have had positive effects. Well not all advancements are successful. Case in point, the FoxTrax puck tracking system (also known as the glow or glowing puck) developed for the NHL. The 1995 NHL season marked the first year Fox Sports began airing NHL games. The NHL at that time, and still to this day, lagged behind the other major American sports when it comes to television contracts and ratings. Hockey games on TV have always had trouble catching on with the casual fans and viewers. The single biggest complaint was that it was difficult to see and follow the puck during the live game action. To devoted hockey fans this complaint was a joke as the puck is black and it is on white ice. Think about it for a second, it does not seem like it should be that difficult to see and follow the puck during a game. However, Fox Sports felt the need to address this common complaint and in an effort to boost television ratings and thus, increase revenues from advertisers, Fox Sports brought about the FoxTrax puck tracking system. This technology made it so that TV viewers would

The red tail seen on a shot

see a blue glow around the puck making it easier for people to see and follow during a game. Moreover, when the puck was shot at a speed of over 70 mph, a red tail would appear showing the puck’s path.

In order to create this technology, a standard hockey puck was cut in half and infrared sensors were placed inside of it (see the end of this post for photos), which then sent signals to sensors placed around the arena. The data would then be transmitted to the FoxTrax truck outside where, using computers, the information was transformed into the blow glow and the red tail. Seeing as this was my feeble attempt at explaining how this works, here is a short video showing how this technology was created.

This technology was first implemented at the 1996 NHL All-Star game and proved to be popular amongst the casual fans, and there was even a slight boost in the TV ratings. However, devoted hockey fans and purists hated the invention. They saw it as making the game comical and thought it looked like a video game. These fans openly expressed their despise for the glowing puck, eventually causing the NHL to abandon the technology after game 1 of the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. (source) Fox Sports spent a tremendous amount of time and money developing this system, yet due to the backlash from hockey’s serious fans, had to abandon this innovation. People take their sports very seriously, and any new creations, adaptations, or changes can be met with great disdain and fail due to the backlash from the die-hard fans. Companies must be careful when developing new technologies that are supposed to improve the game for fans. The FoxTrax puck tracking system is a perfect example of how some ICT innovations, no matter how well-intentioned and thought out, can fail.

As a casual hockey fan whose viewing is predominantly done during the playoffs, I will admit that it can be difficult at times to follow the puck when it is along the boards or moving quickly between a sea of hockey players. Yet I still think that the FoxTrax system was unnecessary. Below are two videos, one showing highlights from a regular hockey game without the FoxTrax system, and one showing highlights with the FoxTrax system in place. I will let you decide how difficult it was to see the puck and if you think implementing the FoxTrax puck tracking system was worth it or not.

Here is the video with no FoxTrax system:

Here is the video showing the highlights from the 1996 NHL All-Star game where you can see the FoxTrax technology at work:

Here are a few photos of what the FoxTrax pucks look like when dissected:

Sportvision: Broadcast and In-Game Viewing Enhancements

April 24, 2011 1 comment

Last week I discussed EA SPORTS Virtual Playbook and the how that technology has changed the way sports broadcasters and can analyze games and provide greater insights to fans. That technology inspired me to look into some of my other favorite ICT advancements that have brought about tremendous changes to the way fans get to enjoy watching games and I found a vast majority of these innovations led me back to the same company, Sportvision.

The Sportvision company logo

Sportvision is the leader in this industry and has won 8 Emmy Awards for its technological achievements and in 2002 was credited by the Sports Business Journal with inventing of half of all the technological advancements in sports television. (source) In fact, in 2010 Sportvision was even voted the 34th most innovative company in the world by Fast Company. Sportvision’s first major breakthrough came with its Virtual Yellow 1st and Ten™ graphics system, the computer generated yellow line that appears on the football field and “allows viewers to see the required distance the offense needs to earn a first down for each play”. (source) The yellow line looks like it is actually on the field and has been so popular amongst fans that is has become a mainstay in television broadcasts of football games

The yellow line as seen during a game

and has even won numerous Emmy’s for technical achievement. While it is easy to recognize what yard line a team has to reach if it is on one of the actual white yard lines on the field (which are marked every ten yards), it is more difficult to know exactly where a team must reach it is anywhere else. The yellow first down marker has taken the uncertainty out of it for fans watching games on TV, and they can simply look at the TV and know the spot that must be reached. The technology used to create the yellow 1st down marker is quite interesting but a bit difficult to explain, so here are two videos that do a great job of explaining how this breakthrough is made possible. 

Building  off of the success of the Virtual Yellow 1st and 10 graphics system, Sportvision has become a leader in this industry. The company has focused on developments for both broadcasting and the viewing pleasure of fans. Sportvision has made numerous advancements in other sports as well including baseball, soccer, tennis,  horse racing and the Olympics. They are responsible for

PITCHf/x and K-Zone technology in action

creating the”PITCHf/x system that illustrates the flight of the ball, and the Emmy-Award winning K-Zone system that makes the strike zone seem tangible”. (source) Sportvision’s website contains an incredible video explaining the technology and showing the PITCHf/x system in action, in addition to links to videos for the K-Zone system and other creations. In fact, if one takes the time to look around the Sportvision’s website you may be surprised by the vast number of technological inventions the company has come up with that is seen every day in sports.

Predictive put technology as seen TV

Making sporting events easier to follow and watch on TV leads to more people watching the games being broadcast, and the boost in ratings obviously leads to more money from advertisers as well as more lucrative television contracts for professional and collegiate sports. The integration of Sportvision’s technologies into sports broadcasts have been so successful that it has spurred the growth of an industry related to in-game viewing enhancements for fans. Other companies have take notice of Sportvision’s success and entered the field such as AimPoint and its advances in the golf industry. AimPoint created the Emmy Award winning predictive put technology, which is utilized by the golf channel and approved PGA. This technology creates “a live graphical insertion of optimal putt overlays into golf broadcasts” and “provides an unparalleled opportunity for the viewer to understand green-reading, putting difficulty, and approach shot strategies” (source). Check out AimPoint’s website for some really interesting videos showing this technology in action.

Sportvision and other companies’ successful ICT innovations for the progression of in-game viewing during sports broadcasts have made watching sports more enjoyable and have made the intricacies involved easier to understand and visualize. As more companies continue to enter the field, I eagerly await to see what new technological creations will come about and how they will affect the way in which we watch sports.

Virtual Broadcasting

April 10, 2011 1 comment

This is a look at the new Virtual Playbook technology being put into action

As I sat and watched some NBA games over the weekend I was reminded of one of my favorite things that technology has brought about in professional sports, the EA SPORTS Virtual Playbook. Virtual Playbook was first introduced in 2008 for all of the NFL shows on ESPN, which is a partner with EA sports on many of its pro sport based games as well as other business platforms. The technology involved in Virtual Playbook has drastically altered the way sports broadcasters can analyze games, specific players and plays. It has also changed the way we as fans understand our favorite sports as well since it allows for greater insight and depth of analysis that we can now literally see.

Here is a photo of the old, John Madden style of broadcasting analysis

What Virtual Playbook basically did was get rid of the older John Madden style of freezing a video replay of a certain play, and then drawing circles and arrows on a telestrator to explain what is going on and then showing the play again so the audience can see what the broadcaster was explaining. Virtual Playbook replaced this older style by “using core EA SPORTS game technology to generate an ‘augmented reality’.” (Source) So what does this mean, well it means that the broadcasters can literally implant themselves within a game so that they can provide their analysis in a much more realistic manner.

This technological advancement was such a tremendous hit that its invention even earned an Emmy for technological achievement at the Sports Emmys awards. (Source) Virtual Playbook was also such a smashing success amongst broadcasters, sports fans, and the ESPN NFL analysis shows that the technology was quickly adapted to ESPN’s college football shows and was then developed further so it could be used in basketball as well. In fact, it was just recently announced that EA SPORTS had struck a deal with Orad Hi-Tec Systems Ltd. to evolve the technology further for use by soccer broadcasters around the world. (Source) This deal and the Virtual Playbook technology were both gigantic steps for EA SPORTS in demonstrating that its technology can serve as a valuable tool for more than simply creating video games. This should open more doors for EA SPORTS going forward to continue creating new and adapting its existing technology for use in other lucrative areas outside of the video gaming industry.

Here are two examples of what this technology looks like in action: 

As you can see it is amazing how this technology altered the way that broadcasters can do their analysis. Not to mention make it much more fun to watch. It truly is incredible to see the announcers right in the middle of the action, even getting to be a part of it as they explain to the audience what is going on. Since I am such a big fan of this technological advancement, I thought I’d share the following video of NBA analyst and former player Jon Barry giving a brief breakdown of the technology and its benefits.

Categories: Broadcasting

Technology Enhanced Globalization

April 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Welcome to the first installment of SportsTech, a blog dedicated to exploring the impact of information communication technology (ICT) on professional sports. Specifically, this blog will delve into how ICT advancements have profoundly affected both the on and off-field products of the professional sports industry. While there are many topics to cover it seems foolish to start anywhere other than the globalization of sports. Advancements in technology have globalized sports in a variety of manners. I remember how as a child I was only able to watch local sports games along with a few weekly selected nationally televised games and I can still feel the excitement I had when my father brought home a new piece of technology called DIRECTV.  All of a sudden we had the  ability to watch numerous pro sports games being played across the country, but it did not stop there as technology advanced so did our access to watch sports on TV and soon we had packages allowing us to watch every NBA, NFL, and MLB game. I could wakeup early to watch Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open. Needless to say as a sports fanatic I could not have been happier.

Since that time accessibility has continued to increase on TV and people can now watch various sports played throughout the world, including (but certainly not limited to) soccer games throughout Europe, and Mexico, as well as rugby matches in New Zealand and South Africa. This is perhaps most evident in professional basketball where in 2008 the NBA boasted about how it would broadcast that year’s All-Star game in 215 countries and 44 languages. (Source) The accessibility to view various sporting events does not end with TV. As technology continued to advance, the capability to stream games live over the internet suddenly enabled anyone in the world with internet access the means to watch sporting events around the world. For example, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament could be viewed online for free by logging onto ESPN.com and for a fee anyone can subscribe to MLB.TV.com watch every major league baseball game live.

The evidence of the globalization of professional sports can also be seen in the players who make up the league. As access to watch different sports has grown, so has the ability for people to now play sports that at one point may have been seldom played in their country. Of the four major American sports hockey, basketball, football and baseball, the NBA and MLB are perhaps the most diverse professional sports in terms of its players. In 2010, there were 231 foreign born players on major league baseball opening day active rosters, which equates to approximately 28% of the total professional players in the MLB. (Source) Players represented countries such as the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Taiwan, Japan, Cuba, Korea, and Curacao. Perhaps a more tell tale fact of its globalization is that the last 2 world baseball classics were won by Japan with Cuba (2006) and South Korea (2009) as the runner-ups. As for the USA, their highest finish was a respectable 4th place in 2009. Maybe it now makes sense that MLB’s championship is known as the World Series.

The NBA is also incredibly diverse. The 2010 NBA season opened with a record 84 international players from 38 countries including Argentina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, Israel and France. This past year the NBA even welcomed its first international team owner when Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought the majority interest in the New Jersey Nets. The NBA even began playing preseason games in Europe a few years ago, and this year just played its first regular season game outside of the USA when the New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors played a two game series in London. The NFL has been playing games outside of the USA for some time now starting with games in Canada dating back to the 1960’s. The NFL has also played games in Japan, Mexico City and Australia. The game of football has expanded so much on a global scale that the 2005 game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City (the first regular season game ever played outside of the USA) set the record for a regular season game with an astounding 103,467 people in attendance. (Source)

So what does this globalization mean for professional sports in regards to the business side, simply put it equates to more money and new avenues to increase revenue. The NBA is the best example of profiting from its new channels overseas. Currently, the NBA nets a small percentage of its total profit internationally (approximately 10%) yet the NBA sees such a large increase in potential business prospects internationally that it even formed NBA China to handle all of its business in China, and it currently has two storesThe grand opening of first NBA store in Beijing in Beijing. Moreover, “about 1/3 of the traffic received at nba.com comes from their Chinese area (china.nba.com)”. (Source) China has become a major opportunity for the NBA and its biggest focus for expansion, especially since all-star center Yao Ming was selected 1st overall in the 2002 draft. However, this profitability is clearly not just limited to China. As the game of basketball continues to grow and more people around the world become fans, new means of profitability continue to arise. To see this, one needs to look no further than the NBA’s recent announcement to launch jersey sales in India. (Source) With globalization come new fans, customers, advertisers, and a plethora of new ways to increase profitability.

Here is a great video of ESPN’s highlight segment for the 2009 World Baseball Classic finals:

Categories: Globalization