September 25, 2014

Sportvision: The clear picture in TV sports visual effects

Originally appeared in TRF 635 Magazine
By: Michael Castellano

It’s a subtle image on the screen, but it’s effect to viewers of sporting events over the last few decades has transcended the way we watch television. You probably don’t even take notice of it anymore but the yellow first down marker that has been vividly engrained in our psyche as football fans began the evolution of visual effects seen throughout sports telecasts. Sportvision, led by CEO Hank Adams, is the top innovator of digital and broadcast content and enhancements for the sports industry. With offices in Chicago, Wisconsin, and California Sportvision has created top flight visual effects for premiere sports leagues from the NFL to the Olympic Games. Their products, designed specifically for sports broadcasts, have transformed the landscape of television. Sportvision’s iconic innovations include “Yellow Line” for the NFL, K-Zone and PITCH/fx for the MLB,  and “Glowing Puck” for the NHL, all which are individually trademarked. Their Yellow “1st and 10″ Line was voted by ESPN as the sports industries seventh biggest innovation of all time, which first aired on FOX in 1994. “Some viewers complained calling it distracting,” ESPN said. “But as you know, it caught on, and is now a permanent fixture in TV broadcasts of almost all sports events (Merron, 2003).” Sportvision’s viewer enhancements have been featured on over 20,000 live sporting events since 1998. To put in perspective the companies scope in terms of how vital their visual creations have been to the sports industry we can look at an entry from the Sports Business Journal: Sportvision is credited with developing half of the top innovations in broadcast sports television since live TV started in 1939. Dennis Deninger is a three time NATAS Emmy award winner and former producer and coordinating editor at ESPN and currently runs his own production company DeningerMedia while also teaching classes at Syracuse University. He was at ESPN when they began using Sportvision’s advanced technology. He realized immediately how impressive their innovations were, “We had Sportvision come in and show us a demonstration of what it was[the yellow line]…and we were all blown away by how that could change the ability of the viewers to see the game without having to look at the chains or the flags on the sidelines.”

Sportvision owns copyrights to dozens of visual enhancements in all four major sports and the Olympics. In baseball Sportvision developed Pitch Location and Stats which allows broadcasters and fans to view pitch information in real time. It can display pitch trajectory, location, and speed. Additionally broadcasters can give a demonstration to their audience with virtual pitches from real live data. Sportvision has also developed virtual advertising which allows them to display specific ads based on when viewership is at its peak. The image appears right behind home plate, but is never seen by anyone on the playing field. However, it is viewable by millions of people watching at home. This allows ads to play during the game and not only on commercial breaks when viewers attention spans may be altered. In football, Sportvision’s trademark innovation, the Virtual Yellow 1st and 10 line, allows viewers to see a yellow first down marker that is no more than an illusion. In the Olympics, Sportvision developed StroMotion which analyzes rapid movement so that an object is visualized as a series of images. When the difference between a gold and silver medal is on the line, StroMotion is an essential tool for analyzing action.

Sportvision develops high quality visual graphics throughout sports for fans, marketers, and business partners. Its products are provided to the top broadcast and sports entities in the world. The NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA, PGA Tour, MLS, the Olympics, and many more. Their broadcast partners include FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC, USA, Turner, and of course ESPN. In an always evolving industry, Sportvision is constantly being shadowed by competitors. Two of Sportvision’s biggest competitors come from outside the U.S.. Sweden based Chryronhego and Denmark based Trackman A/S who both produce similar products for various sports leagues. Recently Sportvision and these two international companies were in a bidding war with Major League Baseball over which company would win out and offer the MLB their new image tracking technology. “We’re confident in what we’ve built(Ecker, 2014),” Sportvision CEO Hank Adams said. Sportvision has contracts with all four professional sports leagues including a deal with MLB that ends after the 2014 season.

Sportvision has an annual revenue of over $100 million dollars. They have contract deals with pro leagues to supply broadcast graphics and patented camera technology in sports arenas. Part of these contractual deals Sportvision has includes updating their visual graphics and technology as is allowed. “Some companies give you data, but we turn that data into insightful graphics, mobile apps, and media(Ecker, 2014),” Adams said.

In our always changing media world, Sportvision is not sitting in the back seat in terms of advancing technology and venturing into new platforms. They are delving into creating new user interfaces for mobile and TV devices, most notably through their NASCAR Raceview app which was the highest grossing sports app in the app store in Feb 2014. “We will continue to develop innovative consumer-based applications that bring passionate fans closer to the action and their favorite drivers(NASCAR.com, 2012),” Adams said.  Recently Sportvision has been challenged by MLB Advanced Media to develop a player tracking system in conjunction with two of their biggest competitors. However, Sportvision is skeptical about working with other companies and knows it may hinder future negotiations with the MLB if they don’t agree to their terms. “We’ve been aware of this for a while and that they were looking at other solutions,” Adams said. “But we like our approach and are confident in it(Cole, 2014).”

Even with pressure coming from competitor companies and business partners, Sportvision still believes they can succeed and continue to thrive on their own. To stay ahead in this ever changing technology age we live in, being ahead of the game so to speak will be crucial as time progresses. “The best companies are the ones that embrace changes in technology whether they come from out of house or in house,” Deninger said. With their reputation solidified as a top notch visual effects company, Sportvision will continue to provide viewers with an advanced watching experience that will take us into the next digital age.