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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

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: