Patents in Sports: Conclusion

My goal for this blog was to explore the history of sports through important inventions and their legal patents, which have taken sports from a hobby, used primarily for physical fitness to an entertainment business that generates billions of dollars of revenue, is enjoyed around the world, and has woven its way into the fabric of our modern society. It began with broadcasting of sports on radio and TV helped generate more money for teams. The boost in popularity and revenue led to better equipment being made to make a better product which led to even more people becoming interested in sports. People could watch on TV and feel like they were at the game, so stadiums try and improve the live experience by foam fingers, jumbotrons, and more beer.

We’ve come from humble beginnings involving some of the greatest scientists who invented wireless transmission with the radio to a man who just wanted to show his support for his high school team by making a novelty oversized hand. Sports has come a long way in a century and with technology playing a growing role in sports the future of sports should lead to even more incredible inventions.

Patents in Sports: Stadium Incentives

Watching a sporting event in person is something all fans enjoy doing. Being able to take in the game live allows for fans to come together with other fans, take in the side attractions and stores in the arena, cheer on your team to help motivate players and sway referees, and it allows to take note of the intricate details not seen on TV. It all makes going to the game special. However, some fans are finding it not worth the effort and prefer to stay at home to watch a game.

As discussed in the previous post, innovations in TV have made enticing for fans to stay at home to watch games when there are numerous drawbacks to going to a game in person. At home you don’t have to worry about traffic, paying for parking, or the tickets, or food, no need to worry about belligerent fans, and at home you can change the channel to a different game if your team is losing in an embarrassing fashion. This is why stadiums have gone to great lengths to incentivize fans to come out and watch their team play. Here are some patents that have helped improve the in game experience.

The very first foam finger

Cheering on your favourite team at your stadium is a big part of going to games. That includes wearable merchandise from hats, shirts, and jerseys to the infamous foam finger. Before its creation, fans faced the serious issue of how to best proclaim their team to be “#1”. How was one supposed to show that they wanted an exaggerated hand to cheer on his or her team? An answer finally came in 1971 when Steve Chmelar (pictured above) created one for a Iowa high school basketball game. Geral Fauss, a high school teacher in Texas, also created the design in 1978 for his high schools football team. Fauss would go on to start his own business making and selling the novelty team items. They are now a mainstay at sporting events and the unlucky fans that must sit behind them have Chmelar and Fauss to blame.

Bottoms Up Beer Dispensary

Bottoms Up Beer Dispensary

When at the game fans often partake in beer from the concessions to help keep them hydrated. In fact, 40% of fans leaving a baseball or football game have some alcohol in their system, according to a study from 2011. With so many people getting drinks, very long lines are formed and people being to miss the game that’s taking place. That is where the Bottoms Up Beer Dispensing System comes in handy. Their invention allows for the beer cups to be filled from the bottom of the cup (pictured above) with no hands due to the valves shutting off once a certain amount of liquid has been released. This leads too much quicker times for beer transactions so fans can catch more of the action.

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When fans are at the game some things just can’t be seen from their vantage point. That is where the jumbotron comes into play. The jumbotron is usually the most eye-catching thing in a stadium. Originally the Jumbotron was an official Sony trademark until 2001 when they stopped manufacturing them and allowed for jumbotron to become a generic trademark. It is one of the most crucial parts of a stadium and can be very useful for those who need to see a replay or can’t see the action from their seats. Below is an image of the Dallas Cowboys jumbotron.

All of these things help incentivize fans to come out to the game. At a time where more and more people are watching the games form home it is critical for teams that they bring people out to the game to help cheer them on in their home arena.

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.

Patents in Sports: Equipment Improvements

LZR Racer Swimsuit: British Patent No. 0715652.4

Hockey Helmet: US Patent No. 8191179

As multiple sports grew in popularity the improvement in the equipment being used grew with it. The goal of sports is to make an entertaining product for fans to enjoy and this has culminated in multiple sports changing the equipment that athletes use. This is done for a number of reasons. In some cases it’s to make the game safer for the players, or to make the game more exciting. Other times equipment is changed to make the sport more challenging or easier. Below are examples of equipment updates that have changed how a sport is played.

Hockey is a sport that has made numerous changes to multiple pieces of equipment, two of the most important ones being goalie equipment and helmets. The realization of the damage that is done by concussions to players has drastically changed how hockey is played. Rule changes have more harshly punished those who target the head, and helmets are being re-designed to help curb the number of concussions. However, hockey was slow to even acknowledge headgear as being important for hockey players. Helmets weren’t mandatory until 1978 and even then still allowed for players already going helmetless to be grandfathered in. A player wasn’t wearing a helmet as recently as 1997.

The helmet first came into hockey in 1928 when George Owen wore one. Wearing a helmet then came with the stigma of not being tough enough and many refused to wear any form of headgear. It would take multiple on ice incidents, including the death of Bill Masterson in 1968, for the stigma of wearing a helmet to cease. Now with head injuries being a major concern, it is clear that the addition of the helmet has saved countless players from concussions and the significant long-term health effects that accompany them.

With goalies have pucks fired at them at incredible speeds it made sense for them to have protective headgear on. Yet it wasn’t until 1959 after receiving a broken skull, jaw, nose and cheekbones that Jacques Plante donned his infamous goalie mask. It soon became standard goaltender equipment. Goalie equipment has also been the way the league has tire to modify the game by reducing the equipment of goalies, specifically the pads, thereby making it easier for players to score and making the game more exciting.

Golf clubs in general has undergone a vast change since the age of the wooden golf clubs; the putter though is one that has garnered a lot of attention recently. Starting January 2016, the rules of golf will forbid players from using a long shafted putter. This type of putter is one that allows for the top to be “anchored” to the golfer. This made putting easier as it required less hand, wrist and shoulder movement. This is the sport of golf trying to make the game of golf fairer.

Not jus the putter is being changed in golf as the game made another change to the equipment. In 2010, golf decided to change the groove dimensions on the face of the club. This was to make it more difficult for professionals when they’re balls are put in the rough. This equipment change is not going over well with many golfers. Many feel that this will negatively affect the 35 million amateurs who play golf regularly because this will become the normal equipment for them as well when it makes its way down from the professionals.

Another equipment issue is the difficult task of finding the right balance for equipment that can improve the sport but still make the sport about the athlete and not the equipment. This has come up in multiple sports including cycling where teams with advanced technology in bicycle designs are being warned by the International Cycling Union that they will punish those they feel are taking technological breakthroughs to far in their designs. Some believe it to be a form of cheating. Others believe that teams have a varying degree of access to the best training facilities and coaches so why not a varying degree of technology.

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Cycling can look no further than swimming and the LZR swimsuits created by Speedo that helped take down numerous world records and dominated the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Speedo estimates that 98% of medals won were by athletes using LZR swimsuits. Launched in February 2008 LZR swimsuits took down 93 world records by August 2009. It was finally banned in competition beginning in January 2010.

It once again raises the question of where is the line drawn in terms of what is just an equipment advancement and what is unfair. As shown above some equipment can make the game safer, more exciting, more difficult, and some make it easier, but the lines between acceptable and illegal are becoming more and more unclear and that looks to continue as technology becomes more advanced.

Patents in Sports: TV Propels Sports Into The Modern Era

TV Patent: German Patent No: 30105

In 2014 over 100 million people in the USA gathered around television sets to watch Super Bowl 48 between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. In 1939 a college baseball game between the Princeton Tigers and Columbia Lions was broadcasted by NBC to 400 television sets that were capable of receiving the signal. In the time between these two events the television became a household product and revolutionized the way sports are enjoyed.

The creation of the TV is most often credited to two people, Paul Nipkow from Germany, and john Baird form Scotland. Nikpow’s contributions were through his patented scanning disc in 1884, which is seen as helping take television development to the next stage. Baird would become the first person to transmit at the image of a live human face.

Nikpow and Baird were probably not thinking about the long-term affect the television would have on sports, they inadvertently helped make sports into the multi billion-dollar industry it is today. The commercial advertising in sports is the reason that leagues are able to obtain millions of dollars from broadcasting companies for the right to show the games.

Sports are especially important for TV in today’s world. With the ability to record television shows and skip through commercials being as easy as it is, sports becomes even more valuable to advertisers. A sporting event on TV like a hockey game is not something that is recorded and watched the next day or whenever it is most convenient like a recurring show would. Sports are watched live by most viewers because they can’t wait to watch the game a day later due to the likely event of them finding out the score and also the game won’t be relevant anymore. This means those viewers are watching all the commercials that take place over a three-hour hockey game.

Globe and Mail columnist Stephen Brunt called sports “PVR Proof” with a “loyal audience, tuning in for game after game, season after season.” That is why the broadcast deals that leagues can negotiate are so astronomical. They control a product that advertisers and broadcast companies believe cannot have the commercials skipped over, making that time worth millions or even billions.

An example of a Super Bowl ad, which can cost over $8 Million dollars for a 60 second spot.

Many televised sports have natural space for commercials as well, such as the twenty minutes between periods in hockey, or the 20 minutes at halftime of a basketball/football game. Football is notorious for their excessive commercials. An average NFL game takes 3 hours and 12 minutes. However, there is only 11 minutes of actual action taking place. In the average game there are 20 commercials breaks and a total of 100 ads all together. That time is what makes the NFL the wealthiest league in North America. Even in all the other sports there are still ways to advertise without even having to go to commercial. Advertisers can sponsor an aspect of the sporting event like the Toronto Raptors “MGD: Smooth Play of the Game”, which is shown towards the end of the game.

It is the commercial aspect of broadcasting sports on television that have many professional leagues considering putting advertisements on players’ jerseys/uniforms. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called ads on jerseys “inevitable”. In terms of how much money could be generated through jersey ads you can look at the English Premier League in 2010, which generated over 178 million dollars from shirt sponsorship. In 2011 Adam Silver stated that he believes the NBA could generate over 100 million through jersey advertisements. It is that kind of revenue that makes it extremely enticing for owners of not just the NBA but for owners in all of the four major leagues.

An example of advertisements on English Premier League Jerseys

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Arguably, TV has had the most critical impact on all sports. Sports had been popular before and had been broadcast before as well through the radio but television gave people the feeling that they were there for the game. The funding it provided has helped grow sports that were commercially viable like hockey, basketball, baseball, and football. Had it not been for the television it is unlikely that sports would obtain the fanatic devotion it receives.

Patents in Sports: Early Broadcast Patents

The purpose of this blog will be to discuss the impact that patents have made on sports. I will explore how patents have helped evolve sports to bring them to where they stand now. Some of these patents will be ones specifically designed for sports while others are patents never intended to be used in relation to sports. Some of these inventions made sports more enjoyable for fans, while others made the game easier for the players. There is a number of patents that have drastically changed sports but these posts will explore just how inventions and their legal patents have taken sports from a hobby, used primarily for physical fitness to an entertainment business that generates billions of dollars of revenue, is enjoyed around the world, and has woven its way into the fabric of our modern society.

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Radio: British Patent No. 12,039

An example of a mid-1930’s radio

In 1923, people were able to hear a live hockey unfolding in the comfort of their homes. The game featured Midland and North Toronto, tams from the Ontario Hockey Association. It was the first time a sporting event had ever been broadcasted via the radio in Canadian history. (Kitchen, 246)

The history of the patent for radio is rather convoluted with many people staking their claim to the historic piece of technology. Names like Marconi, Edison, Bell, and Tesla all have grounds to be seen as inventor of the radio. The first official patent that described a radios function belonged to William Henry Ward in 1872, U.S Patent 126,356, who was aiming to improve the telegraph system. There would be many more patents to come after that with the most important one being British Patent No. 12,039, in 1897. This belonged to Guglielmo Marconi and his company (The Marconi Company Ltd.) helped popularize the device and turn it into the piece of technology we still use today.

While the radio was not specifically intended to be a medium for sporting events to be shared with the public, it quickly became one of the most popular broadcasts on radio. Just 24 years after Marconi’s patent the device was being used to broadcast sports. The first baseball game announced took place at Forbes Field between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The introduction of radio had far reaching implications on the existing professional sports. The rights to broadcast the games became worth a lot of money. One radio company tried to circumvent the cost of broadcasting rights by relaying play-by-play information of the Pittsburgh Pirates from a vantage point outside of the stadium and would then share the information with their listeners. (Pittsburgh Athletic vs. KQV Broadcasting).

The money earned from selling broadcasting rights now is the largest generator of cash for sports teams. Major League Baseball receives 800 million annually from Fox and Turners Sports 1. The National Basketball Association just signed a new broadcasting deal that will see ESPN and Turner Sports pay 2.6 Billion dollars annually (Beginning in 2016) for the right to broadcast basketball games 1. This all began with a patent that looked to improve the telegraph machine.