Patents in Sports: Broadcasting Innovations Improve Sports on TV

First Down Marker: US Patent No.6229550

Haykeye Review: Patent No. WO 01/41884 A1

Hockey FoxTrax: US Patent No.5,564,698

As discussed in previous blogs, broadcasting inventions have greatly impacted professional sports. Without the TV we wouldn’t have the same sport industry we have today. People can enjoy the game from the comfort of their home. In fact, many find the hassle of going to a game in person unnecessary now that TV has gotten so exceptional at showing the game. They offer incentives that a fan can’t get by going to the game in person. In this post I’ll look at some patents that have improved sport broadcasting to where it is today.

One of the most successful patents to make its way into sports broadcasting was the first down marker in football. What it does is it adds a yellow line to indicate for viewers at home where the first down marker, and appear as though it’s under the players feet as if its just painted on. This simple concept takes an incredible amount of technology to make it happen. It was first introduced to NFL fans on Septemebr 27th, 1998 for the Bengals/Ravens game. It was wildly successful. It has even been the recipient of Emmy awards for its technical achievements. This was a major breakthrough that is now incorporated into every football game.

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In tennis, the introduction of the Hawkeye review system has not only changed the game for fans at home, it has also made the game more accurate. Hawkeye uses multiple cameras around the court that track visual data and computers reproduce the balls path and its landing spot, with a margin of error of 3.8 millimeters. The reviews are done within seconds (unlike reviews in Football, Basketball, Hockey, etc.) and allow for accuracy to the highest degree. First used in Cricket, Hawkeye made it’s way to Tennis in 2006 and has become a mainstay ever since.

While some of these patents are extremely helpful for fans watching at home, others can frustrate longtime fans that find the use of graphics tacky. In the case of hockey, the glowing blue puck was a TV graphic that was not appreciated by lifelong fans. FoxTrax was first introduced at the 1996 All Star Game and would be present for all Fox hockey games until the start of the 1998-1999 season. After its introduction, the reviews weren’t quite as negative. A Fox Sports Survey showed 7 of 10 respondents liking the addition. However, in hindsight the FoxTrax has gotten a considerably negative evaluation. In 2002, an ESPN.com reader’s poll named the glowing puck the sixth worst sport innovation. Evan Winkler of the Huffington Post wrote that it was the worst innovation in Sports Broadcasting.

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The glowing puck, like all of the aforementioned inventions, was made to make the viewing experience of the fan more enjoyable. While the puck failed to do so, others have made great improvement in watching sports on TV. So much so that it is now preferable for a lot of fans to stay home and watch a game, as opposed to fighting through traffic and paying for expensive tickets and expensive foods and only being able to see the game from where you sit. Watching a game in the comfort of your home has changed how fans consume spots.

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