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.